UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


We're not so different after all


UNC Kenan-FlaglerTim Flood always begins his talks on cross-cultural communications with a picture of an iceberg.

“There’s what you know, what you think you know, and what you don’t even know you don’t know,” he says.

Flood spoke at the Cross-Cultural Savvy for Global Business certificate program about communication preferences and national culture. The two-day UNC Kenan-Flagler program, offered by the Global Business Center Jan. 31-Feb. 1, brought business professionals, academics and students together with seven intercultural communication experts to develop skills for global business.

Despite their inherent biases and stereotypes, how they choose to communicate in cross-cultural settings is completely within their control, Flood, an associate professor of management and corporate communication, told participants.

“The way you speak and interact with people is no different than the clothes you choose to put on. It’s a choice that you make every day,” he said. “Communication style has very little to do with where you’re from. We are these abstract sum totals of everything that’s happened to us.”

Drawing on the work and theories of Richard Lewis, Flood said that when people come together in and communities they “tend to behave similarly.”

But he acknowledged the dangers of stereotyping in cross-cultural communications. Pinning a single story or stereotype on someone can breed ignorance and lead to communication problems. Flood referenced the 2009 TED Talk by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie, in which she said the problem with stereotypes isn’t that they’re incorrect – the problem is that they’re incomplete.

In addition to the differences in how people think, react and act in various cultures, there are also differences on a personal level that can manifest in communications, Flood said, referencing the left-brain, right-brain phenomenon. Left-brain thinkers are said to be more logical and analytical, while right-brain thinkers are said to be more thoughtful and intuitive.

Despite the variations in culture across the world, Flood said people communicate in essentially the same ways.

The overwhelming majority of the world bases truth on immediate outcome and acts from the heart, he said.

The program is supported by a Center for International Business Education & Research (CIBER) grant from the U.S. Department of Education.