When you are looking to export your business abroad, alongside the endless paperwork and financial implications, there are of course a large number of linguistic considerations to make, including the localisation of your marketing content, interpreting services for your meetings and translation of your legal documents and financial contracts into your target language. However, one thing that many companies completely forget to include in their export strategy is the fact that they are quite often dealing with countries whose cultures and business etiquette diverge significantly from their own. Having an understanding of the culture, customs and business practices of your chosen country will enable your business to build close and meaningful professional relationships and will have a significant impact on the success of your business abroad. In an increasingly multicultural business environment, it is increasingly likely that you will come across and have to do business with people from a range of cultures that are very different to your own.
Cross-cultural training helps to foster an understanding and appreciation of other cultures and to develop awareness between people who do not share a common culture. There are two main types of cross-cultural training, the first being general training facilitating awareness and understanding of multiculturalism in a working and business environment, and the other being specific cultural training for companies who frequently visit a certain country and wish to become more aware of specific cultural norms and business etiquette there. For example, if you were looking to export to China, it would be an excellent idea to enrol your negotiators and managers on a professional cross-cultural training course in order to equip them with the knowledge and understanding of how to conduct business in a significantly different cultural environment.
Don’t let it happen to you!
Here are some examples of scenarios that could have been avoided had the participants been given cross-cultural training:
An American businessman leaves a business meeting in Japan feeling encouraged by the progress that has been made and believing that his Japanese counterparts have loved all of his ideas and suggestions. The Japanese businessmen, on the other hand, leave feeling angry, offended and unhappy with their American colleague’s vision for their partnership.
On arrival, the American’s Japanese counterparts gave him a business card that he put in his pocket to have a look at later. He didn’t have one on him himself but instead them a warm handshake and a friendly smile. He took a seat at the conference table and proceeded to have a frank discussion with the Japanese businessmen, disagreeing with certain points, agreeing with others and suggesting his own ideas.
What the American man didn’t know, and what he would have been made aware of had he been given sufficient cross-cultural training, is that the presentation of business cards (or meishi) is extremely important in Japanese business etiquette, and the presentation of a high-quality business card between two parties is a ritualised and essential form of greeting. Putting the business card offered into a bag or pocket without looking at it is extremely offensive. What he was also unaware of is that Japanese business culture, the idea of saving face is extremely important; openly disagreeing with what somebody has said is considered rude and the Japanese prefer to convey disagreement in a very understated way, for example by saying something such as “It is under consideration.” Therefore, the American businessman did not understand that he was being disagreed with, instead believing that they had confirmed and accepted his proposals.
A Spanish managing director goes on a business trip to the UK because she is looking to set up a local branch of her company there. She has a lunch meeting for 2pm, arrives at about 2.15 and sits down to lunch with her hosts. She wants to get to know them, so asks all about their families and home lives while they eat. Her British counterparts don’t seem to be very interested in talking about this, however – in fact, they seem a little cold and keep trying to bring her conversation back to their business dealings. She feels a little upset because they’re not being very friendly. On the other hand, the British businesspeople are getting frustrated because their Spanish colleague seems to be veering off topic quite frequently and is asking them quite probing and inappropriate questions about their personal lives. They also are on a time schedule and are finding it hard to discuss the business at hand, especially since the Spanish woman was late to start with.
If the Spanish manager or her British counterparts had received cross-cultural training, then they would have been aware that in Spain, personal relationships are extremely important to business and it is usual to have quite a lot of general conversation and get to know prospective business partners first. Spaniards will want to become acquainted before getting down to business. Also, the Spanish see eating as mainly a sociable activity rather than an opportunity to discuss business and act accordingly. However, in the UK, punctuality is essential, business meetings and lunches are a lot more structured and in general proceedings can be more formal.
Lead your business to international with long-lasting professional relationships
Strong business relationships based on mutual trust and understanding are key to being successful in your overseas venture. Many companies fail abroad due to communication difficulties and misunderstandings like those described above. Cross-cultural training will ensure that you put your best foot forward when speaking to potential business partners and save you from embarrassment and the repercussions of unintentionally insensitive behaviour.
Contact us now to find out more about the cross-cultural training offered here at Lingua Translations and give yourself the very best chance at business success when meeting with people from all over the world.