The Importance of Communication in International Business

by Debbie Mcrill; Updated September 26, 2017

Businesses are selling products around the world. Partnerships are being formed with people from diverse cultures as business relationships are formed. Each country and cultures within a country bring communication challenges to businesses. Good communication practices help maintain these intricate business dealings. Bad communication practices can cause loss of business and even international tension among countries. Communication is intricately blended with non-verbal communication and etiquette.

Understanding Culture

Because cultures vary so widely across the globe, understanding the differences in culture is vital to the business environment. A person's culture impacts the way he communicates. For example, in Japan people do not like to say the word "no." In a business meeting, a Japanese business person may mean no, but never directly state it. This can cause confusion. Another cultural example is in Saudi Arabia. Never discuss women, even to ask about a female family member's health. In Saudi Arabia, you may be having a business meeting and the person may leave the room for up to 20 minutes. The Saudi person may have gone to prayers as he considers the business meeting more of a discussion than a formal meeting.

Communication Errors

Understanding the local meaning of a word or phrase is a vital aspect of international communication. Errors can cause embarrassment and can show disrespect. According to Kwintessential, a communication company, an example of a communication error occurred with the Kellogg company. It was selling a cereal product in Sweden. The cereal name, Bran Buds, can generally mean, "burned farmer," in Sweden. Another example is the ad, "Come Alive with Pepsi," by Pepsico. In Taiwan, the translation became, "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead."

Etiquette and Communication

Etiquette is a combination of behavior and communication. Making an error in etiquette can cause a business deal to fail. For example, when you are meeting with a group of people from the Asian culture, you have to be aware of hierarchy issues. If you disagree with an idea presented by a person in management, it is not a good idea to say so in front of subordinates. The manager "loses face," by what is perceived as criticism.

Written Communication

In the Western World, business is handled by phone calls and emails. Less formal communication can cause confusion and misinterpretation due to language differences. For example, if you use generally accepted Americanized statements, you can cause a lot of confusion such as, "I'm on it. I'll jump on that right away," or even, "I get it." Other email communication needs to be considered. For example, in Japan, typically, a person will greet you by your last name and then the word "san." This is a sign of respect to you. If you simply send back an email response without a greeting, it may be considered rude.

About the Author

Debbie McRill went from managing a Texas Department of Criminal Justice office to working for Compaq and Hewlett-Packard as a technical writer and project manager in 1997. Debbie has also owned her own businesses and understands both corporate and small business challenges. Her background includes Six Sigma training, and an Information Development career with journalism and creative writing as her passion.