Language and cultural differences curb efficiency

Language and cultural barriers cause misunderstandings between employees and curb the efficiency of organizations. PhD student Anders Klitmøller, Department of Business Administration, has studied virtual communication between Danes and natives of India in multinational organizations, and his research results have granted him the newly established, international Gustavson School of Business Award.

2012.09.26 | Charlotte Vindeløv Larsen

Anders Klitmøller has won an international award for his article on communication in virtual teams. Photo: Charlotte Vindeløv Larsen

In his award-winning article: ‘When Global Virtual Teams share knowledge: The Role of Media, Culture and Language’, Anders Klitmøller has studied virtual communication in English in multinational organizations with employees in both Denmark and India. The study shows that language and cultural differences between Danes and Indians can cause misunderstandings and conflicts, which curbs the efficiency of organizations. 

- Organizations often misjudge the English language skills of Danes. Danes do not speak English as well as we think, especially when it comes to technical terms, says PhD student Anders Klitmøller.

Misunderstandings create conflicts
The lack of English language skills is the reason why misunderstandings often occur when employees communicate via telephone. Danes' knowledge of specialized English is worse than we think, and Danes find it difficult to understand Indians’ accented English. When employees communicate via e-mail, however, it is not language differences that cause problems but rather cultural differences:

- Indians write long, detailed e-mails, while Danes write short and concise e-mails. This makes Indians consider Danes to be callous and uncommitted, while Danes are annoyed by having to read the lengthy e-mails that Indians tend to write, says Anders Klitmøller.

High costs for organizations
- Language and cultural differences may imply huge financial costs as they curb efficiency, and it requires extensive resources to resolve the differences, says Anders Klitmøller and explains the aim of the article:

- Danish organizations now have an informed basis for decision to determine whether they want virtual co-operation across national borders rather than face-to-face communication.

Anders Klitmøller has won an international award for his article, but he stresses that although the award only has his name on it, it is a joint project conducted in close co-operation with his supervisor Jakob Lauring, Professor with Special Responsibilities. Anders Klitmøller’s next research project is a continuation of this project and deals with language and cultural challenges in global teams with more than two nationalities.

The article forms part of a larger research project – Creative Design in Multicultural Organizations. The research project is externally funded by the Danish Council for Strategic Research.

  • Read more about Anders Klitmøller's research here (only in Danish)

About the award
Anders Klitmøller won the Gustavson School of Business Award for ‘Best Qualitative Paper in International Business’ at the Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management in Boston on 6 August. The award distinguishes itself by its qualitative focus and is awarded to someone who contributes to research in International Management. The award was granted for the first time this year, and Anders Klitmøller was the first to receive the newly established award.


Anders Klitmøller, PhD student, Business and Social Sciences
Department of Business Administration
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