English is easy
This is all about business trips to foreign countries around the world. How often do we not get the contract or important contacts are broken off because the guests from Germany have made terrible mistakes by ‘putting their foot in it’? Culture and cultural differences do play a major role in world business.
In the 19th century, the diplomat Bernard Satow, the first Briton ever to learn Japanese noted that successful dealing with the Japanese depended on the application of ‘intelligence and tact’. The application of intelligence and tact is surely the essence of good cross-cultural business practice. Misapplication, however, whether conscious or not, can undermine relationship development, including scepticism, alienation, and exasperation. The net effect is inefficiency; deadlines tend to be pushed back, mutual trust remains elusive.
Email has arisen as a form of written business communication with English as the dominant language, but it is a web-based English that native writers frequently abuse for the sake of speed and that foreigners must master as a distinctive variant of the kind of English they learnt.
Unedited grammar, faulty punctuation, misspellings, ad-hoc abbreviations, insensitivities to local codes of address, the casual use of emotions as if universally accepted – all these factors make cross-cultural business communication unnecessarily arduous for somebody.
When cross-cultural communication becomes hard work, it is difficult to establish common cognitive ground, to learn from and about each other, to share knowledge productively. It adds to the time needed to create mutual trust. The point to remember is that cross-cultural communication is no longer the art of getting messages across to people who live in other countries as customers or suppliers; it is rather the ability to create and maintain the trust of those entities as a skill in its own right.
In China and Japan, we encounter business people who use language with exceptional tact and ingenuity to probe each other’s trustwothiness. In these and other cultures, which place the value of trust-based relationships above making deals fast, shimmering courtiesies are interlaced with hints about the best way to proceed or not to proceed. Westerners, new to such countries, do not always appreciate that Chinese or Japanese negotiators must think of the impact that their dealings with you and your company might have on the rest of their networks. It is best to assume that their networks, which they spent a lifetime grooming , are more important than you!
Creating a conducive atmosphere for cross-cultural trust requires skill and patience. It can also take time; not minutes or hours, sometimes years. It is over a dinner table not a negotiating table that can convey how much one knows about and appreciates a foreign culture.
Many business people feel confident about doing business and talking about technical matters with people from other cultures but are often less happy when it comes to socializing. In Germany there is often a relatively strict separation between work and leisure. In many other cultures, work and leisure are more closely linked. For international business relationships to succeed, a positive atmosphere outside, as well as inside the office, is essential.
What are good topics for small talk? What topics are taboos in different cultures? What gifts should I give to my business partners? Should I invite foreign guests to my home? What clothes should I wear when socializing with business partners? What sort of food should we offer visitors from abroad? Who sits where at a formal dinner? What should I do if they serve me something I can’t eat? What should we talk about over dinner? Who pays? How can I deal with heavy drinking in Russia or Japan? What’s the sauna etiquette in Finland? How should I behave with my business partners on the golf course? These are just some of the questions that will be answered when learning about the do’s and don’ts and learn how to avoid mistakes by finding out the most important do’s and don’ts in the following 27 countries: