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The Importance of Cross-Cultural Business Communications

Article by:
Gayle Cotton Special to EO
Gayle Cotton
Special to EO

Gayle is president of Circles Of Excellence for Corporate Training & Executive Coaching. She is an internationally recognized authority on Cultural Science and author of the book, "5 Keys To Successful Cross-Cultural Business Communications," now available as a DVD series. She is a Certified Expert with The Executive Foundation for International Communication, and was the first American to become a member of European Marketing and Sales Experts. Visit www.circlesofexcellence.com for more information.

In today’s global business marketplace, the ability to communicate effectively and multi-culturally cannot be underestimated. As a communications expert with a background in behavioral and cultural science, I have to know how to effectively manage multi-cultural expectations. Over the years, I’ve shared my experiences with entrepreneurs and businesses all over the world. Here are some common cross-cultural issues for those entrepreneurs developing relationships with individuals or businesses from different cultural backgrounds:

  • Not being proactive and adapting to different cultural business expectations. It’s all too easy to get off on the wrong foot and become reactive.
  • Not understanding how formality, hierarchy and timing can affect business. These things have a tremendous impact on negotiations and decision-making.
  • Being perceived as too aggressive or even impatient in your business approach. Business often takes longer with different cultures and countries, so plan accordingly.
  • Many cultures are more team-focused or “we” oriented. This can really impact your business style and marketing material. Also, avoid being egocentric or “I” oriented.
  • A big taboo is unintentionally offending someone with your body language. This can be very difficult to recover from. A basic guideline is to use “opened-handed” gestures. Don’t point with your index finger, use the OK sign or thumbs up and thumbs down.

Here are five keys to successful cross-cultural communications for your business partnerships:

  • Be proactive. Start by focusing on creating trustful partnerships, not on the business at hand.

  • Use some cultural rapport. Adapt your marketing material and business approach as needed.

  • Organize productive interactions that ensure a “win-win” for all parties.

  • Develop strategies for relationships and business cycles based on appropriate levels of formality, business hierarchy and timing.

  • Learn the “do’s and don’ts” of the country and cultures with which you’re partnering. In short, be well prepared.

How can you proactively prepare for multi-cultural business?

  • Awareness is the first step! Observe how people communicate with you in person, on the phone and by e-mail. Notice if they are more formal and expressive or more direct and to the point.
  • Know your facts. Be aware of relevant historical data, economic issues, major industries, cities and geography, to name a few. There is nothing more embarrassing than not knowing your geography while working in a new country!
  • Hone your cultural rapport. For example, when Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah visited then-US President George Bush at his ranch, they were photographed strolling hand in hand through the bluebonnets. This was an important sign of their friendship and trust. Sometimes when managing international business relationships, you need to go beyond your personal comfort zone!
  • Keep in mind that we are homogenizing as a global culture, so we can’t ever take cultural tendencies for granted.​

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