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Language and cultural barriers detrimental to competitiveness

Torbjørn Bjorvatn disputerer for ph.d.-graden på doktorgradsprogrammet ved Handelshøyskolen ved UiA onsdag 26. september 2018 med avhandlingen «The influence of the international business context and complexity on team-level outcomes” - om språk- og kulturbarrierer i internasjonale prosjektgrupper.

In a globalised world language and cultural knowledge are becoming increasingly important competitive factors. Norwegian companies need to develop an understanding of other cultures and social conditions in order to compete.

Torbjørn Bjorvatn

Ph.d.-kandidat / forsker

In a globalised world language and cultural knowledge are becoming increasingly important competitive factors. Norwegian companies need to develop an understanding of other cultures and social conditions in order to compete, Torbjørn Bjorvatn’s doctoral thesis shows.

We increasingly have to interact with foreign countries and with foreigners coming to Norway. Today, many Norwegians work in foreign-owned companies or in companies that interact extensively with the world around us.

Across borders we do not share the same experiences, we do things a little differently, and we have different expectations of each other. It turns out that overcoming cultural differences is harder than overcoming language barriers. Moreover, cultural differences are harder to spot and not always easy to relate to.

While English is a universal language reducing the language barrier, lack of cultural knowledge is a pit that is easy to fall into. The lack of knowledge resulting in such a fall is not exactly a good bargaining chip, and many contracts have fallen into this pit.

This is why Norway has to continue strengthening language teaching, but also focus more on cultural knowledge. At the same time, businesses must make sure they hire people who have knowledge of other cultures when they enter into international negotiations. These are some of the conclusions of Torbjørn Bjorvatn’s doctoral thesis.

Torbjørn Bjorvatn presents his thesis “The influence of the international business context and complexity on team-level outcomes” on Wednesday 26 September 2018. He has been enrolled in the doctoral programme at School of Business and Law at UiA, specializing in international management.

This is how the candidate describes the main points of his thesis:

Norwegians must improve communication with foreigners

Norwegian society becomes increasingly globalised. Many Norwegians work in foreign-owned companies or in companies that interact extensively with the world around us.

But still, it can be hard to make yourself understood when talking to people from other countries. It is not a matter of will. But language and cultural differences can quickly complicate communication.

The level of English knowledge is not always great.

We do not share the same experiences, we do things differently, and we expect different things from each other.

Language and cultural barriers

The thesis focuses on language and cultural barriers in international project groups.

Close to 300 Norwegian and international project groups have been examined.

One conclusion is that overcoming cultural differences is significantly harder than overcoming language differences.

Today, English is a second language spoken all over the world. Consequently, the language barrier is no longer such an issue.

In Norway today, language learning is good all through school.

Cultural divides

But there is no ‘second culture’ to help us overcome cultural divides. Besides, cultural differences are harder to spot and not so easy to relate to.

If you underestimate these things, not only can embarrassing situations arise, but cooperation is threatened by serious friction, discontent, distrust, and sometimes cooperation breaks down at critical times.

This is a risk companies cannot afford to take.

Cultural knowledge gives competitive advantage

A central message in the thesis is that Norway must strengthen cultural knowledge teaching.

The individual company needs employees who have a good knowledge of culture and society when  negotiating with foreign countries.

As globalisation continues, cultural knowledge will become an increasingly significant competitive factor in business and industry.

Also in other areas, integration for instance, consciousness about and knowledge of foreign cultures is of vital importance to Norwegian society. 

 

Disputation facts:

Candidate: Torbjørn Bjorvatn (1964), Birkeland, Aust-Agder. Cand.mag. from the University of Oslo, Master of International Business from the Norwegian School of Economics (NHH), Bergen. PhD Research Fellow at School of Business and Law at UiA. Researcher at NORCE Norwegian Research Centre (formerly Agderforskning).

Trial lecture and public defence will take place in Sørlandet Auditorium in Kunnskapsparken, Universitetsveien 19, Campus Kristiansand, Wednesday 26 September 2018.

The disputation is led by dean Kristin Wallevik

Trial lecture at 10:15

Public defence at 12:15

Stated topic for trial lecture: “Why should ‘International Business’ be seen as a separate field of research within business and economics?”

Title of thesis: “The influence of the international business context and complexity on team-level outcomes”

Search for the thesis in AURA – Agder University Research Archive – a digital archive for academic articles, theses and master’s dissertations by staff and students at the University of Agder. AURA is updated regularly. The thesis will be available at the University Library. Copies of the thesis will be available for loan at the auditorium where the disputation is held.

Opponents:

First opponent: Professor Sabrina Schneider, Universität Kassel, Germany 

Second opponent: Professor Olaf N. Rank, Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, Germany

The Evaluation Committee is headed by Professor Lars Christer Oxelheim, School of Business and Law at UiA

Supervisor for the doctoral work was Professor Andreas Wald, School of Business and Law at UiA