When you begin to do business across different countries you quickly become aware of the scope to which different ways of doing things effects how you carry out business.
This usually starts at the very first communication:
- How you say hello
Different cultures have different ways of saying hello.
Greeting someone in the right way goes beyond a simple translation of the word “hello”. It is also many different aspects of how you say hello.
For example, in Anglo-Saxon countries, you can start an email off with a simple “Hi” in most circumstances. But in other countries you would might need to make a more formal greeting and take a little time to present yourself. Even if you are writing in English you still need to pay attention to cultural differences and perceptions.
French people feel more comfortable, for example, when they know how to address you in return. They are used to an elaborate etiquette in writing hello and goodbye. A simple “Hi” is not a good idea because it does not give them enough to know how to address you in return and this can make them feel uncomfortable.
Learning how to say “hello” to different cultures can be a challenge in itself and when you feel confident at this stage, you may think that you are halfway through developing your international skills.
But this is far from the truth…
These skills will help you, but you need to continually question different methods of doing things. This is because different ways of doing things effect how business is done at all levels.
The Cross-Cultural Communication Challenge – An International Catalog
About 15 years ago, I was responsible for putting a catalog together for a major international event. I had to contact over 1000 participants from all over the world and get the text they wanted for their entry in the catalog as well as their company logo.
This was before the web was present over the world as it is today. At the time, the company logo had to be given to the printing house in a specific format.
The trouble was that different countries preferred different formats and these different formats:
- Either, did not work in another process
- Or, produced the wrong results in another process
The words to describe this specific format were different in different countries. Yes, even in English. To complicate matters even more, the people I was in contact with were not all well-versed in professional printing practices.
Whenever I tried to use the correct vocabulary there were just too many wrong interpretations or translations due to:
- Different cultures used different vocabulary
- Different ways to provide materials for print
- Different cultures had different preferred printing methods
In the end, I found the best way to avoid any errors was to take the time to describe:
- What the required printing materials physically looked like
- How it fit into the printing process
The Cross-Cultural Communication Mistake – Different Printing Practices
Well… I was told that the catalog I put together had the fewest errors in it that the publisher had ever seen for similar events. And I had done this in a very short time frame.
But despite all of my efforts, I did have one print error.
Yes, it was a big one.
A logo was printed back to front. And this was very embarrassing because it was for:
- An important client – so high level apologies were needed
- A Japanese client – where the cultural differences make it difficult to find the appropriate way to apologize
This mistake was a direct result of people doing things differently in different cultures.
I thought I had resolved all of these issues. But there were several hundred of them and as usual, the it was a job that had to be done in a short time frame. And one wrong logo did actually slip through the net. The only way I might have prevented this error was to physically be on the production scene and to take the time to check every single one as it came through.
In this case, wrong interpretations or miscommunication could potentially happen at every single stage along the process. This is one of the reasons why the previous catalogs had more errors.
Different Cultures Do Things Differently
You must never forget that different cultures do things differently.
- There is no right way or wrong way
- There are just different ways
And in any international setting you quickly learn to question your own way of doing things.
- Is this what is being asked?
- What am I asking the others?
- Is this appropriate?
The first lessons you learn when adapting how you say hello in different cultures help you when confronted with other challenges created by doing things differently. In cross-cultural communication you learn to simplify the requests you make and the responses you give while striving for effective cross-cultural communication. With experience you will probably notice how the best solution is often a simple one.
What about you?
Can you share how you coped with different ways of doing things?
- Do you know of any cultural blunders due to different ways of doing things?
- What tactics have you used to work across cultures when people did things differently?
- How do different ways of doing things in different cultures effect your business?
What do you think? Please share your thoughts and comments below.
Photos from Shutterstock.
Filed under: Cross-Cultural Communication
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