Definition and description of culture

This report is aimed to describe sorts of noise which might be created in organisations through cross-cultural communications and explore the ways which this noise could be minimised. To present the arguments evidently, various appropriate frameworks as well as empirical examples such as Greek multinational pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, will be implemented. To achieve the objectives of this essay, first definition and sorts of cultural noise will be explained followed by analysis of the different ways that noise might affect cross-cultural communication. Subsequently, several techniques to minimised noise in organisational communication will be discussed. Then, relevant frameworks to analyse an example of Pharmaceutical Company in Greece, Pfizer, in support of the arguments will be implemented. Finally, an overall conclusions and recommendations regarding this research will be presented.

Definition of culture

Culture is the systems of knowledge shared by a relatively large group of people. Culture is the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one human group from another. It is the learned ways in which a society understands, decides and communicates. (Hollensen, 2007)

Culture is the sum of the learned behaviour of a group of people which generally considered to be the tradition of that people and are transmitted from generation to generation. Culture refers to the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of generations through individual and group striving.(Hofstede, G. 1997)

The concept of organisational culture (Deal and Kennedy, 1982; Hofstede, 1991; Schein, 1985; Trice and Beyer, 1993) comprises organisational values, shared beliefs and assumptions, behavioural norms, and expectations aspects (Rousseau, 1990). Organisational culture plays important role in the matching process between individuals and their organisations (Kilmann et al., 1986; O’Reilly et al., 1991; Schein, 1985).

Person-organisation fit is defined as “the congruence between patterns of organisational values and patterns of individual values” (Chatman, 1991, p. 459). It has been understand that important outcomes like employee turnover and commitment are affected by the match between the organisation’s values and an individual’s values (O’Reilly et al., 1991).

The visible and invisible aspects of culture

The visible daily behaviour such as body language, clothing, lifestyle, drinking and eating habits

Values and social morals such as family values, friendship patterns, sex roles

Basic cultural assumptions such as national identity, religion and ethnic culture

Layers of culture

National culture

Business/ industry culture

Company/ Organisational culture

Individual behaviour/ decision maker

Figure 1- Layers of culture

Definition and models of organisational communication

Communication is defined as the process of transmitting data and meaning among two or more people. Communication is effective only when mutual understanding results have been achieved. In organisations, communication is a very important issue as failure to communicate will lead to appalling consequences.

Organisational communication has been defined as “the process by which information is exchanged and understood by two or more people, usually with the intent to motivate or influence behaviour” (Daft, 1997, p. 560 cited in Kelly, 2000). Figure 2 is illustrated a representative model of organisational communication. This model which has been used on both interpersonal and organisational communication researches, is taken from Hunt (1980, p. 35)


A model of organisational communication

*Source: Hunt, 1980

The basic elements of the model are: information source, encoder, message, channel, information receiver, decoder, and noise. The information source referred as the sender is a person or group of people with an intention for communication. The encoder expresses the sender’s intention in the form of a message. The message is a translation of the intention into a code that is language, written words, or signals. The channel transmits the message and can be verbal, non-verbal; written or electronic .The receiver decodes the message using his or her senses, perceptual filters such as individual motivations, principles and contextual factors such as organisational position of the sender. Noise might misrepresent the message sent to the receiver or obstruct with the overall communication effort. According to Hunt (1989), the receiver then chooses a communication channel to offer “feedback” which could be the desired response or no response at all. This model has highlighted numerous aspects of organisational communication research such as communication channels (formal and informal) and verbal and non-verbal communication (Hall, 1959)

Hall’s Communication Context framework

According to Hall`s communication context model, cultures can be classified to two main categories:

Low-context Cultures which rely on spoken and written language for meaning

High-context Cultures which use and interpret more of the elements surrounding a message to develop understanding such as body language. Non-verbal language includes time, space, material possessions, friendship patterns, and business agreements are more important in high-context cultures than low-context cultures.

This framework is a useful tool to evaluate national cultures and prevent cross- cultural misinterpretations by understanding characteristic of different cultures. Based on Hall`s communication model, low and high-context cultures could be Compare as table 1.

Table 1 – Comparison of low and high-context cultures based on Hall`s model





Explicit, direct

Implicit, indirect

Family and friends

Nuclear family, self-oriented, value youth

Extended family, other oriented, loyalty

Values and norm

Independence, confrontation of conflict

Group conformity, harmony

Beliefs and attitudes

Egalitarian, challenge authority, gender equity

Hierarchical, respect for authority, gender roles

Mental process and learning

Linear, logical, sequential, problem solving

Lateral, holistic, accepting life’s difficulties

Business/ work habits

Deal oriented, rewards based on achievement

Relationship oriented, rewards based on seniority

Sense of self and space

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Informal handshakes

Formal hugs, bows, and handshakes

Dress and appearance

Varies widely, dress for success

Indication of position in society, religious rule

Food and eating habits

Eating is a necessity, fast food

Eating is social event

Time consciousness

Linear, exact, promptness is valued, time is equal to money

Elastic, relative, time is equal to relationships

Hofstede’s model of national cultures (4+1 dimensions)

This model can be implemented to analyse national cultures and has five dimensions as following:

 – Power Distance Index (PDI) which refers to the degree of equality, or inequality, among people in the country’s society. A High Power Distance index specifies that inequalities of power and affluence have been permitted to rise within the society.

-Individualism (IDV) which focuses on the level that society highlights individual or collective, attainment and interpersonal relationships. A High Individualism ranking signifies that individuality is dominant within the society whereas a Low Individualism ranking presents societies of a more collectivist character with close bonds between individuals.

– Masculinity (MAS) which indicates the degree that society emphasizes the traditional masculine work role model of male achievement, power, and supremacy. A High Masculinity ranking demonstrates that the society experiences a high degree of gender differentiation.

 -Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) which expresses the level of tolerance for ambiguity within the society. A High Uncertainty Avoidance ranking shows that the society has a low tolerance for uncertainty. This generates a rule-oriented society that set up rules and regulations to decrease the level of uncertainty. A Low Uncertainty Avoidance ranking indicates that society takes greater risks and more willing to accept changes.

– Long-Term Orientation (LTO) that presents the level which society holds long-term dedication to traditional values. A High Long-Term Orientation ranking demonstrates that the country embrace respect for tradition and the values of long-term commitments.

Concept of noise regarding cross-cultural communication

Cultural noise refers to barriers and impediments to successful communication among people of different cultures. Sources of cultural noise are numerous and could be consist of:

Difference in language for instance the same words have different meanings in two languages which can creates noise in communication.

Dissimilarity in non‐verbal cues such as interpretation of body language

Differences in values such as importance of being on time in a culture

Self-reference criterion (SRC) which refers to one’s unconscious reference to one’s own cultural values when attempting to understand another culture.

In the process of organisational communication model (Hunt, 1980), fail in communication at any point can happen. Breakdowns occur when the sender fails to influence the receiver in the ways that are intended or when the receiver fails to do the same (Berlo, 1960 cited in Kelly, 2000). The sender may convey the message in a way which is not received. The receiver might decode the message inaccurately, misinterpret the sender’s intention, and respond incorrectly. Incompatible verbal and non-verbal channels may indicate that the receiver doubts the true intention of the sender and does not respond at all.

According to (Daft, 1997; Dessler, 1998; Pace and Faules, 1989 cited in Kelly, 2000) Potential “barriers” to effective organisational communication are classified as:

– Interpersonal barriers: barriers that come from individual characteristics and difference cultures and include:


Perception and perceptual selection processes

Inconsistent verbal and non-verbal communication

Channel selection

– Organisational barriers: barriers that come from an organisation’s structures, systems, and processes and include:

Technical and in-group language

Physical distractions

Time pressure

Information overload

Status differences

Absence of formal communication channels

Task and organisation structure requirements

Minimising cross-cultural noise in organisational communication

People who are involved in international communication and dealing with different cultures should be aware of obstacles that might distress the message interpretation in the way that the sender proposed. This necessitates particular understanding of the communication process and a variety of sources relevant to cultural noise which may hinder that process. Previous discussion about various aspects of culture can provide better scope to identify the possible ways which the noise in cross-cultural communication could be created as well as better understanding of sources of noise. Effective Cross- cultural Communication with identifying the right communication channel will minimise noise and generally could be achieved through developing Cross-cultural Communication skills, capabilities, competency and improving awareness about cultural values regarding business relationship in cross-cultural communication.To minimise cross-cultural noise the ability to communicate effectively must be improved and the interpersonal and organisational barriers must be reduced. The following discussion is offering a number of ways to overcome the barriers and minimise cultural noises in organisations:

Interpersonal barriers


Semantics defines as “study of words or symbols meaning” and can create noise in communication as words can be used unclearly, inaccurately, or may mean different things to different people. Traditionally, it has been suggested that to reduce this barrier, careful attention must be paid to choice of words and language. Consequently misunderstanding or offence could be avoided. This argument conceptualises language and meaning as a potential “trouble” for communicators in organisations. Managers must be very communicative and use bright language to signify passion, positive energy, self-reliance and personal confidence (Kouzes and Posner, 1995, p. 136)

Perception & perceptual selection processes

Perception is defined as “the dynamic psychological process responsible for attending to, organising, and interpreting sensory data” (Buchanan and Huczynski, 1997, p. 46). Communication depends on the way people`s motives and intentions has been perceived. “perceptual selection” is consciously and unconsciously process of selection from flow of sensory information, which affects what and how they have been heard and willingness to respond (Buchanan and Huczynski, 1997).Conventionally, the way to minimise these barriers are to develop self-awareness of personal values, beliefs, and attitudes and the ways which they affect perception as well as improving understanding and compassion to other people. For instance, avoid stereotyping and improve listening skills. In organisations, the process of communication can raise awareness of essential organisational goals and enlighten people about the appropriate means to achieve the goals (Bass, 1990)

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Inconsistent verbal and non-verbal communication

Inconsistent verbal and non-verbal communication can lead to a communication breakdown as inconsistency confuses a receiver who attempts to understand the “true” message of the sender and then relies greatly on the non-verbal actions to decode meaning. Usually, managers have been advised to minimise any inconsistencies between their words and their manner of speaking, posture and facial expressions. Attention to non-verbal manners is essential for effective communication. The process of communicating with non-verbal manners, physical space, measures, and rewards provides consistent information about organisational values.

Channel selection

When communicating in organisations, attention must strictly be paid to the selection of a channel (oral or written media) and ways to send the message. Selecting an inappropriate channel may result to breakdown in communication. For example, emotional or complex messages are usually communicated most effectively via face-to-face. A complicated message should be sent through a “rich” channel, such as a face-to-face meeting (Lengel and Daft, 1988 cited in Kelly, 2000). Matching characteristics of the message (clear/ambiguous, rational/emotional) to the channel can minimise the miscommunication. In addition, implementing multiple channels to convey the same and constant message regarding central organisational values can enhances assurance about key organisational values.

Organisational barriers

Technical and in-group language

In organisations, technical and professional vocabularies make it difficult for individuals or groups to communicate mainly when organisational members are extremely professionalised or organisational subunits are highly differentiated. It has been recommended to minimise specialist vocabularies whenever possible in organisations. Consolidation of the various aspects of an organisation and highlighting organisational interest, or the common goals over self-interest can reduce these kinds of noises. Using images and symbols when communicating is an effective way which stresses the similarities of subunits and professions over the differences.

Physical distractions

Physical distractions in organisations comprise noise, interruptions, and equipment breakdowns and it has been suggested to minimise them in any possible way. Practicality, in the best effort, they could be minimised instead of elimination as in reality; distractions would never be eliminated in the workplace.

Time pressure

Time pressure is another apparent impediment to organisational communication. Managers must be aware of sensitivity of organisational time periods. For instance, it has not been recommended that a manager in an accounting firm declare a key organisational change in the last week of the tax year. Patently about the manager`s values, employee`s own values, and shared values and what is expected of them, will lead to better handling of stress and reduce miscommunication.

Information overload

As managers deal with huge volume of information and data on a daily basis and information-processing is an important part of a manager’s responsibilities (Mintzberg, 1973 cited in Kelly, 2000) developing time-management skills to cope with high amounts of information or attempt to reduce information to the level which is essential for processing, have been recommended.

Status differences

Status differences could be huge or small in an organisation. Large status differences are more likely to cause miscommunication. To minimise status differences, the responsibility should be more on the higher status person to reduce the distance (Hunt, 1985). Enhancing employee`s sense of value and purpose concerning organisational goals must be used by managers to reduce this barrier. Managers can use ceremonies, honouring events and celebrations of importance to the organisation to convey significant values and beliefs.

Absence of formal communication channels

Channels are required for organisations to transmit information about objectives and goal achievement, performance and to promote harmonization and problem solving across the organisation. Absence of formal communication channels lead to difficulty to exchange information between employees, managers, subunits and suppliers. Many techniques have been developed to improve upward communication such as performance reports, proposition systems, and position surveys. For downward communication newsletters, conferences and meetings and for horizontal communication quality circles, electronic networks and intranets have been developed. the power of informal channels of communication, including symbols, artefacts, and rituals must be considered to minimise noise as they are visible reminders of key organisational values and they communicate even when the manager is absent (Kouzes and Posner, 1995, p. 229).

Task and organisation structure requirements

The performed tasks will affect type of the required information people need to share and the urgency and speed of messages. As a direct outcome of hierarchy filtering (intentionally or unintentionally leaving out parts of a message), distortion (to serve individual goals), and refusal to communicate (either because of oversight or deliberately not sharing information) could be found (Hunt, 1980). To minimise, it has been suggested to decentralise decision making and implementing structural devices such as task forces, multifunctional teams or integrating managers. Minimising this barrier could be facilitate by prevail over the tendency to filter, distort, and refuse to communicate. A focus on teamwork and achievements should be highlighted by the measurement of results and the reward system (Kouzes and Posner, 1995).

Case study: Pfizer In. Company in the Greece

Pfizer is one of the leading pharmaceutical multinational companies. Founded in 1849, New York, with top-class products, innovative research and new product development, operates in more than 85 countries and employ more than 400 people in Greece (Pfizer, 2010). As for pharmaceutical industry, regulatory and social requirements of each county is different and linked to specific environmental and cultural aspects of the country, Pfizer had to adapt and localise its operation to each country. As Pfizer is an American company with unique organisational culture whereas its employees in Greece are more likely to be individuals influenced by Greek`s culture, differences between patterns of organisational culture and individuals culture could lead to cross- cultural noise in the company. To minimise cultural noise, previous discussions regarding interpersonal and organisational barriers, their aspects and the ways to minimise them, customised to characteristics of Greece culture, must be implemented. Earlier discussed frameworks could be used to analyse Greek`s culture to gain crucial intelligence and insights to prevent and minimise cross- cultural noise in the company.

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HALL’S Low and High Context Theory to Analyse Greek`s Culture

As according to (Ferraro, 2006; Hall, 1976) Greece has been considered as a High Context Society, Pfizer must pay attention to characteristics of high context cultures, which reviewed in table 1, when operating in Greece to minimise potential noises in organisational communication. For instance in Greek’s culture, communication is implicit and indirect using body language or business and work habit is relationship oriented. Pfizer in Greece must be aware of cultural differences and possible barriers which may affect organisational communication and might result to cross-cultural noise and try to prevent them.

HOFSTEDE’S 4+1 Dimensions for Analyse of Greek’s Culture

Broad information on the world’s cultures in combination with Hofstede`s 4+1 Dimensions model, which has been already explained, could be implemented to analyse culture of specific country. For Greece it would be as following:

Hofstede’s model to analyse Greek’s Culture





Power distance (PDI)



Authority play an important role

Individualism (IDV)



Individualism society, emphasize on independence and personal identification, Decision will be made individually

Masculinity (MAS)



Statues, Success, Money, achievement values are prevailed

Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI)



Greek People have low tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity, less risk taking

Long-Term Orientation


No data for Greece

*Source: Hofstede, (2006), Usunier, (1996)


To conclude, in line with conceptualising cross-cultural noise, sorts of noise which could be created through cross-cultural communications classified to Interpersonal noises include: Semantics, Perception and perceptual selection processes, Inconsistent verbal and non-verbal communication, Channel selection and Organisational noises include: Technical and in-group language, Physical distractions, Time pressure, Information overload, Status differences, Absence of formal communication channels, Task and organisation structure requirements in combination of numerous techniques to minimise them in organisational communication have been discussed. Two appropriate frameworks, Hall`s Low and High Context theory and Hofstede`s 4+1 Dimensions model, have been reviewed. Implementing these models to analyse empirical examples in the Greek multinational pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, the ways to minimise Interpersonal and Organisational noises, have been comprehensively explained. For instance, to minimise interpersonal noises regarding cross-cultural communications within Pfizer, as Greece has been classified as a High Context Society, characteristics of high context cultures must be considered. As an empirical example, communication in Greek’s culture is implicit and using body language is general. Foreign managers who works in Pfizer (for instance, American managers whom their cultural communications is low context and direct), must be aware of cultural differences when communicate with Greek employees and must learn about meaning of body language in Greek culture to avoid miscommunication. Based on Hofstede`s 4+1 Dimensions model for Greek`s culture, Power Distance and Masculinity Indexes are relatively higher than average in the world. As an empirical example, foreign managers who works in Pfizer should provide promotional incentives such as bonus to encourage Greek employees or as Individualism and Uncertainty Avoidance Indexes are very high, managers must attempt to avoid uncertainly in workplace as Greek People have low tolerance for uncertainty and individually, less risk taking.

Refers to characteristic of Greek`s culture, to minimise interpersonal noises regarding cross-cultural communications within Pfizer in Greece, to give a few empirical examples, foreign managers must be aware of semantics in Greek’s culture as it is potential trouble and must use bright language to signify self-reliance and personal confidence. Regarding Perception & perceptual selection processes, to minimise these noises they must avoid stereotyping and improve listening skills. For Inconsistent verbal and non-verbal communication, managers should minimise any inconsistencies between their words and their manner of speaking, posture and facial expressions and finally for channel selection, as an empirical example in Pfizer in Greece, managers must try to select rich channel, such as a face-to-face meeting to communicate most effectively with Greek`s employees.

Providing a number of empirical examples to minimise organisational noises, managers should use appropriate images and symbols to reduce technical and in-group language noises or physical distractions in any possible way. As empirical instances to reduce time pressure, managers should declare a key organisational change in right time and develop time-management skills to cope with high amounts of information. To minimise status differences, managers can use ceremonies, honouring events to convey significant values and to overcome absence of formal communication channels, managers must improve upward communication such as performance reports, downward communication such as conferences and meetings and horizontal communication like intranets. A focus on teamwork and achievements highlighted by reward system could minimise task and organisation structure requirements noises. In conclusion, particular understanding of the communication process and various cross-cultural noises in Greek`s culture is necessary to minimise them.

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