Why an Understanding of Intercultural Communication is an Essential Skill in Business

Posted by in Networking

By Emily Housden, PR Executive. Everyone in business has been involved in an awkward situation before where someone might have taken a step over the line which made you feel uncomfortable, it can be even worse if it is an intercultural miscommunication.

Cross-cultural differences in how business is handled can vary hugely from one country to another and so if you are dealing with someone from a different nationality within your business it is essential that you can practise intercultural communication with ease.

If you’ve been working within businesses in Britain all your life it could be easy to assume that the formalities, hierarchies and procedures, which are present in business within Britain, are a global phenomenon, but that’s just not the case. Globalisation has meant that more and more businesses are having to communicate with people from all over the world which makes intercultural communications a very relevant topic to today’s business landscape.

And it’s not just language, which could act as a barrier. It’s more likely to be different customs or views on how business should be conducted.

For example, I remember hearing about an instance where an Australian businessman met a Malaysian man to negotiate a contract. The Australian instantly started talking about the contract and what this meant or entailed. The Malaysian businessman was so shocked and refused to talk about the contract, let alone sign it. Later, it was realised that in the Malaysian business culture it is vital that the two businessmen spend a day getting to know each other before mentioning anything to do with business.

Cultural differences could be closer to home including differences within Europe. For example, in Poland it is considered extremely rude to shake hands at the doorway whereas in other places it is considered perfectly acceptable.

Here are some tips you should always follow if you’re doing business with someone from a different culture:

1. Do your homework. Learn about their culture, etiquette and the customs of that culture as well as the customs within business. For example, in Guatemala, it’s considered extremely rude if you do not greet everyone you come into contact with.

2. Adapt your marketing material and business approaches for each different culture you’re coming into contact with. The same briefs or marketing campaigns are not going to work with completely diverging cultures.

3. The best way to make sure you don’t unintentionally offend someone is to always use open-handed gestures. You should never point with your index finger, use the OK sign or use a thumbs up or down because these are all gestures which could cause offence in different cultures.

4. Avoid being ‘I’ centred when you talk to businesses from other cultures. Although in Britain it isn’t a problem to talk about yourself in business in other countries where there is a stronger team-focus and it could be rude to focus solely on yourself.

5. Don’t be afraid to go beyond your personal comfort zone in order to benefit your business. Many cultures hold hands to signal friendship, in Britain this might be considered an invasion of personal space but if it benefits your business – you should try it.

As you can see, being ignorant to the different business cultures around the world could mean that you jeopardise your business opportunities.

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