How Cultural Differences Can Affect Business Communications
**Note: This is a guest post written by one of our readers. For more information on how to submit a guest post, please read our guest posting guidelines.
Acknowledging the cultural idiosyncrasies held by international audiences is essential if businesses are to be successful in their multicultural communications.
Ease of communications, from social media to email has created a 24 hour availability unheard of in any past business situation, and opened up a world of international opportunity and trade.
Though this is a boon to professionals targeting multinational markets, alongside differences in time, currency and language, cultural differences can play an integral part in the way business communications should be conducted. Because of this, understanding how cultural differences and nuances can affect business communications is an important advantage a business has over competitors, to avoid offence and ensure communications appeal to particular target nationalities.
Differing cultures value the concept of time in differing ways. From a relaxed midday siesta, to the weighty importance of punctuality and schedule, the opinion ‘time is money’ may be interpreted in a variety of ways. To create a good impression and not appear too relaxed, or overly precise, know the cultural values your audience holds of time.
Are scheduled meetings exact and rigid events, as in Britain, Germany or other similar European cultures? Or are they more loose and flexible as in a number of African countries? Knowing how time is perceived enables businesses to prepare and adapt communications to suit. For example if your audience expects a detailed agenda or a short and concise schedule you can provide this, whereas if talks are expected to be looser, longer, more spontaneous and discursive, as they are in say Brazil, meetings (and the speaker themselves!) should be prepared to reflect this.
In an inter-connected and multicultural world, the issue of alternative, cultural and even religious dress may be familiar to most. Knowing and adhering to expected formalities and appearance in a business situation could be the difference between being taken seriously or disregarded, and at the very worst could offend your audience. Before a meeting or a presentation with audiences of differing cultures to your own, find out what dress is expected (this may be more strict for women). It is normally better to appear smart, serious and well-presented, no matter your audience, if you are a guest in another culture. In your own culture this may not be as pertinent, but considering your audience’s preference may make a better impression.
Regarding communications themselves, most cultures can be considered as adhering to one of two styles, which affect attitudes towards time, willingness to listen for extended periods, punctuality, valuing of business relationships as emotional or not, and other such cultural attitudes. Often described as ‘monochronic’ or ‘polychronic’, monochronic nations reflect the value of precision, order, rules and schedule, and tend to highly value time, detailed information and the efficient, uninterrupted delivery of information. Nations regarded as monochronic include: Britain, Germany, Jamaica, Japan, Scandinavia, Canada, the USA, Korea.
Polychronic cultures on the other hand appear much more relaxed in their attitudes towards communications, are more easily distracted, often interrupt and question during presentations, regard tasks as more objectives to reach if possible rather than strictly deadlined actions, and are likely to do multiple things at once rather than work through ordered lists. Polychronic cultures may include: multiple African nations, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, India, China.
This should affect the manner in which cultural communications are structured or styled. Regarding the importance of social hierarchy and etiquette too, and knowing what is considered polite and respectful (cultures such as Japan, China and many Arab nationalities will regard social hierarchy and even age as integral to the way business communications and social interactions are conducted) can help transmit messages across cultural, social and hierarchical boundaries and cause business communications to be internationally successful if they are understanding.
Aside from obvious communications complications such as language differences, or being sympathetic to the logistics of translations, considering cultural practicalities can be the final display of forethought necessary when meeting and communicating with multicultural audiences. Getting every little communications difference correct is not necessarily vital if a business is willing to compromise over cultural differences, or make allowances for jet lag or culture shock.
Remember, though preparation and understanding are integral to international business communications, your international audience is likely to recognise your difficulty in adapting to cultural change, and will be more forgiving and accommodating to minor blunders or alternative cultural approaches if you are equally considerate to them.
About The Author:
Cathy is Head of Communication Skills at a language consultancy based in London, which specializes in courses for business writing