Intercultural communication is enhanced when individuals actually have opportunities to relate to people from other cultures not merely as work associates , but as friends as well. The global managers surveyed for this book mentioned that those individuals who succeeded in building relationships with people from other cultures became more adept intuitively in the art of intercultural communication. However, intercultural relationship building is facilitated when both the individuals involved are culturally sensitive. Thus in the interests of congeniality, a manager is advised to select polycentric people from other cultures as friends . The mutual desire to respect each other's cultural heritage, and to seek common human grounds for relating to each other, ensures that the relationship develops in a positive fashion. It also ensures that feedback is given and received in an atmosphere of comfort , and the giving and receiving of feedback is an important aspect of any communication.
Cultural friction arises when either or both individuals trying to relate to each other repeatedly make the same cultural gaffe. Urech (1998) writes that Australians like to be addressed by their first names , while Belgians prefer to be addressed by their surnames. An Australian manager who spent an entire evening with a Belgian was disconcerted when the latter said on parting company, 'Yes, we will meet again tomorrow at 6.00 pm, Mr Wilson.' The Australian immediately said, 'I would really be happy if you call me Alan. After all, we are friends, are we not?' And the Belgian immediately replied, 'Yes, of course Alan, if you say so.' Thus that day the Belgian learnt that Australians like to be addressed by their first name, and the Australian learnt that Belgians are not on a first-name basis unless they invite a person to use their first name .
Intercultural relationships are built on the premise of mutual give and take. This give and take has, however, to be preceded by some awareness of the areas for likely differences of approach. It is said that Italians like to spend a great deal of time with people they befriend. The Finns, on the other hand, can be good friends without feeling the need to hang around with their friends continuously. For an intercultural relationship to develop between a typical Italian and a typical Finn, both would have to be aware of how each person defines a friendship in terms of time spent together. Both would have to be prepared to deviate from the path they normally take, to accommodate the other's preferences. And most importantly, both would have to communicate to each other their preferences regarding how they should relate as friends. It is communication that enables people to realize in what ways their cultural underpinnings might impact on their friendship. Savvy managers enter an intercultural relationship prepared for give and take; for being educated about how the other views relationships, and educating the other in turn . Intercultural relationships require an investment of effort that is rewarded by the fact that they contribute to enriching life's experiences with variety and depth. Managers who opt for intercultural relationships do so because they like it. The investment of effort therefore comes naturally and effortlessly.
In his book, which is much referred by preachers, gurus and aficionados in the field of intercultural management, Trompenaars (1993) has quoted Clifford Geertz thus: 'Culture is the means by which people communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about attitudes to life.' Trompenaars then goes on to opine, 'Culture is not a thing, a substance with a physical reality of its own. Rather, it is made by people interacting, at the same time determining further interaction.' At this point we diverge from Trompenaars and would like to develop a different line of argument pertaining to culture and communication. If culture is made by people interacting, which premise we accept, then it follows that intercultural relationships can cause culture to be redefined, as both parties to the relationship influence and are influenced by each other's culture. Global managers who have related at fairly deep levels to managers from other cultures, and/or have lived for substantial periods of time (at least three or four years ) in other cultures and imbibed aspects of those cultures, would have redefined their own cultural contexts many times over.