Technical communication in a multicultural world: How to make it an asset in managing international business, lessons from Europe and Asia for the 21st century.

J.M. Ulijn, Rajesh Kumar

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


In recent years foreign investors have become increasingly attracted to the emerging markets in Asia. Although China has attracted the greatest attention, markets such as India have also begun to generate considerable interest. Diverse as they are socioeconomically, politically, and culturally, these countries share a common need to improve their infrastrucure to enhance and sustain higher rates of growth. Investment in infrastructure, be it in the power, telecommunications, or the transport sector represents a tremendous opportunity for foreign investors. Consistent with this, a large volume of foreign investment has begun to be channeled into these sectors. Even though infrastructural investment represents a win-win situation for the multinational firm and the host country, the development of infrastructural projects has been far from easy. Many projects have been delayed, or altogether, scuttled. The cancellation, and the subsequent renegotiation of the Enron power project in India is a perfect illustration of the complexities inherent in the process. To be sure, by their very definition infrastructural projects are not easy to execute successfully. They involve spending large sums of money on ventures with long gestation lags. A vast proportion of the money has to be raised from external lenders. This enhances the complexity of the project. To make matters worse, there is often considerable ambiguity about the technical parameters of the project and the organizational form which is best capable of dealing with the ambiguity. If, to this, are added the differences in national and corporate cultures among the different participants, it is clear that value creation is no simple matter. Scientific communication among the relevant actors is no longer something that can be discussed in purely neutral terms. Although the technical terminology may be familiar to the participants. the institutional embeddedness is not, and it is the divergence in context which makes value creation problematical. Contextual differences lead actors to perceive and interpret technical information in different ways. Conflicting interpretations, in turn, delay, if not altogether impede the process of value creation. In a shadowy mixture of complexity and ambiguity, conflicting and shared strategic goals and divergent communication styles, politicization of project development is all but inevitable. It is the goal of this chapter to identify and isolate the role that is played by the socioinstitutional environment in affecting the process and the outcome of value creation in infrastructural projects between Western firms and Asian organizations(private or public). Scientific communication is critical in this process even though the contextual grounding of communication vitiates its neutrality. Strategies for overcoming the inherent problematic of value creation in these projects will be discussed. What can for instance American and European investors learn from those projects? How could East and West communicate more efficiently in such cases? As a case in point, we will briefly summarize the results of research on business letters and technical documentation written from Latin and Anglo-germanic cultures within Europe and North America. To what does Hall's concept of high or low context apply to Anglo-germanic/Latin/Asian cultural differences. What are the consequences for technical communication and negotiation in projects between partners from those cultural backgrounds? How explicit or writer-responsible should Asian messages be in the West, how implicit or reader-responsible can a Western message be in Asia to guarantee effective international communication? How can we make culture an asset in the global technical communication of the next century? We will briefly outline a future research project on that score proposing communication as an effective strategic tool at the top management level to change organizations.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationManaging global communication in science and technology
EditorsP.J. Hager, H.J. Scheiber
Place of PublicationWiley-Interscience
Number of pages386
ISBN (Print)0-471-24922-X
Publication statusPublished - 2000


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