Many U.S.-based businesses are experiencing a rude awakening when it comes to expanding their operations and partnerships abroad. For many, the difficulty lies not in setting up the right corporate framework or legal agreements, but in something a bit more nuanced: intercultural communication.
Effective communication among different cultures can be challenging due to the wide variance of cultural norms, deeply-held beliefs, accepted behaviors and a host of other factors. Fortunately, while difficult, it is far from impossible. Business professionals can build commonality and limit misunderstandings with their international partners by learning the basics of global corporate communication. The three factors described below represent some of the most crucial elements to consider before your next venture abroad.
Concept of Time
It is important to remember that a meeting scheduled for 10 am might actually start at very different times in different countries. In Germany, for example, promptness and punctuality are not simply positive qualities: they are the expected norm. Alternately, cultures with a more relaxed view of time, such as Italy and many South American countries, might view a designated time as a rough guideline rather than a precise starting point.
Over the past decade or so in the U.S., many supervisors have adopted a fairly open and flexible approach to communicating with employees and colleagues. This looser hierarchical structure is not always the case in other countries, where there may be strict lines between managers and the employees they oversee. Notions of respect and deference are particularly notable in Asian cultures and ought to be acknowledged in order to avoid seriously offending a colleague. The idea of personal space must also be taken into account. The close quarters of a conversation in Greece or Turkey, for example, would likely prove uncomfortable for your Chinese partner.
After the day’s work is through and talk turns more casual, the importance of understanding cultural differences remains just as important – if not more so. American business professionals may not be as versed in drinking culture as many Europeans, which is a useful point to remember when attending an after-hours dinner with Russian colleagues or evening event with German partners.