In today’s global world, working with people from different cultures is a common occurrence in a business setting. Your suppliers may be located halfway across the world, your partners may have just moved from another country and your customers may speak a different language than you.
In order for businesses to succeed in this global environment, it’s important to know how to navigate cross-cultural communication. By implementing strategies to succeed in cross-cultural business endeavors while crossing hurdles, organizations can show their customers and stakeholders that they value their relationships.
What Is Cross-Cultural Communication?
Cross-cultural communication involves conversing, negotiating and exchanging information either verbally or nonverbally with people who are of different cultures. People from different backgrounds communicate in different ways and follow various societal norms that may be unfamiliar to someone who is not of that culture.
The importance of cross-cultural understanding is paramount in business. For example, in Asian cultures, silence within a conversation is a critical aspect that demonstrates good listening skills. Within a business setting, if you ask a question, you may not receive a response right away. The silence between the question and the answer is deemed acceptable and shows that the people involved are paying attention and considering what they say carefully. On the other hand, people from the United States, Brazil or France view silence as an awkward part of the conversation and attempt to fill it up as quickly as possible. When dealing with business partners from Asian cultures, this may show them that you are not paying attention or not listening carefully enough.
Ensuring Business Success
In order to successfully communicate with people from different cultures in business, it’s important to proactively learn how to deal with cross-cultural differences. The best way to communicate is to build trust with your business partners. You can do this by researching the cross-cultural communication differences and being aware of them prior to your meeting. This proactive approach shows your partners that you are invested in the success of your work together.
Similarly, it’s important to know the do’s and don’ts of your interaction. Being well prepared will lead businesses to success during cross-cultural communication. For example, in French, German and Israeli cultures, disagreements are expressed directly and forcefully. However, in Brazil or Thailand, the way people disagree is more gentle and subtle. Understanding these nuances prior to the conversation can help the business succeed when dealing with other cultures.
Investing in the right tools and assistance can also go a long way. Some businesses work with foreign language consultants who help to bridge the divide between cross-cultural communications. Others hire people in the communications field, such as marketing copywriters, in the country they are doing business to ensure that their marketing message is communicated authentically the way a local would speak.
Overcoming Cultural Barriers
The barriers to cross-cultural communication can cause businesses difficulties, especially if they are not prepared for the nuances that come with conversing with people from other parts of the world. Language is one of the biggest cross-cultural factors in the workplace. Not everyone conducts business in English. If working with someone who speaks English as a second language, some finer elements of the conversation may get lost in translation.
However, there can still be communication barriers between someone from the United States and someone from the United Kingdom who both speak English as their primary language. That’s because culture plays a major role in the way people communicate. Many people don’t expect there to be a cultural difference with someone who speaks the same language and are then caught off guard when they are faced with a communication barrier.
Nonverbal communication can also act as a barrier to cross-cultural communication. In many Western countries, eye contact is seen as a way to build trust and show honesty and integrity. However, in some Middle Eastern cultures, eye contact is considered rude and too forward. For women, it’s seen as a sign of sexual interest. Similarly, pointing to another person using a finger is acceptable in Western countries. However, in Japan the gesture is extremely rude. By proactively knowing the communication differences across cultures, businesses can increase their chances of success when engaging in cross-cultural communication.
Anam Ahmed is a Toronto-based writer and editor with over a decade of experience helping small businesses and entrepreneurs reach new heights. She has experience ghostwriting and editing business books, especially those in the "For Dummies" series, in addition to writing and editing web content for the brand. Anam works as a marketing strategist and copywriter, collaborating with everyone from Fortune 500 companies to start-ups, lifestyle bloggers to professional athletes. As a small business owner herself, she is well-versed in what it takes to run and market a small business. Anam earned an M.A. from the University of Toronto and a B.A.H. from Queen's University. Learn more at www.anamahmed.ca.