In the world of business, English is widely acknowledged as the universal language. However, despite using a common language, it is not uncommon for misunderstandings to occur. Differences in cultural and business practices mean that business travelers should be aware of varying customs, etiquette and cultural differences when conducting business abroad.
When conducting international business, it is extremely important for business representatives to be aware of different cultural beliefs and behaviour. After all, behaviour which might be considered normal in a UK boardroom could be radically different to behaviour expected in Saudi Arabia or China. As a result, failure to understand foreign business practices and customs can create insurmountable barriers to successful business relations. Conversely, taking a little time to learn these cultural differences can reap rewards and help build strong business relationships.
The age-old saying “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” is sometimes a wise adage to bear in mind when conducting business with foreign clients. In the UK, for example, meetings are often business-like and tend to follow a rigid time-based structure where points are debated at given times. However, in Japan and other Asian countries, there is great importance attached to courtesy and hospitality which can cause delays and prevent keeping to a strict schedule.
Certainly, in many parts of Asia, forming a personal relationship in your business dealings is very important. Although it can take time to build, once a relationship has been developed, it tends to last for a very long time and can be advantageous over the more ‘shallow’ relationships found in Europe and the United States. In some business cultures, establishing friendships can be a potent business tool, so it is important to take the time to establish such relationships with prospective clients.
Another important cultural difference to observe is the difference in greeting business counterparts. In the UK, a firm hand-shake is considered polite as is making brief eye-contact. In China, bowing or nodding is the common greeting, and although shaking hands is becoming a popular form of greeting, this should be initiated by the host.
Personal space should also be observed according to the dominant culture. In the UK and Europe, personal space is valued and an acceptable distance should be kept. However, in some southern European countries and Asia, personal space is much decreased so that what could be perceived as intimate in the north is akin to normal conversational distance in the south.
Regardless of the location of business meetings, whether in the boardroom of a London Company or the restaurant of a business hotel in Dubai, it is important to be aware of the many cultural differences that exist between east and west, north and south. While some traits are worldwide, such as ensuring punctuality at the start of a meeting, other traits are much more subtle. Taking the time to understand those traits and the differences in cultural and business etiquette can mean the difference between business success and an unsigned contract.
Article Author: Adam Singleton
Adam Singleton is an online, freelance journalist and keen amateur photographer. His portfolio, called Capquest Photography is available to view online.
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Common Problems (Business Communication)
Communication plays a big role in an organization between employer and the employee, even though effective business do not guarantee success in a business set up, its absence will surely lead to problems, this can easily lead t crisis in an organization. However various communication barriers do exist, among them are:
Cultural Barriers and diversity
Cultural barriers are normally at the source of communication challenge. An organization has to explore historical experiences and ways in which different cultural groups relates to one another is key to open channels for cross-cultural communication in any set-up. Organizations have to become more conscious of cultural differences, and also have to explore cultural similarities, this can assist one communicate with others much more effectively. (Pinker, 1997)
The structure of communication follow is a crucial issue in how effective business communication is passed on to an audience. It does not matter if the audience is involving one or hundred, good flow is essential if the communication is to be “heard”. Thus a poor flow of your message or delivery is hence a key barrier to effective communication.
Due to current technological advancements there are several medium in which one can use when communicating, however if a wrong medium is selected the message may not reach the intended audience or the audience my not be able to interpret the message. Thus when considering the medium to use when communicating, it is wise to evaluate the percentage of your target audience who are likely to have access to your selected medium at the time you are passing the message. (Pinker, 1997)
Lack of common understanding
Perception; our own preconceived attitudes affects our capability to listen. We normally listen uncritically to individuals of “high status” and dismiss those of “low status”.
Lack of common spirit
When individuals don’t have a common spirit will interpret a particular communication differently, this a definitely a big barrier to communication
Lack of training or experience
Having inefficient knowledge or experience in communication skills, limits one to communicate effectively whether through talking or listening. This thus is a big barrier to communication.
Common Issues (business communication):
People: individual, groups
Centering on ourselves, instead of other persons can lead to confusion and conflict. Some factors that cause this are ego; superiority and defensiveness also hinder effective communication. (Mehrabian and Morton, 1997)
Culture, background, and prejudice; we permit our previous experiences to alter the meaning of a message. Our culture, bias and background can only be good if they let us use our previous experiences to comprehend something new, but when they change the message meaning then they hamper communication process. (Mehrabian and Morton, 1997)
Channels, information flow
The channel of communication chosen when communicating is critical in ensuring that communication is effective. When some message requires an oral channel other requires writing. Thus if the wrong channel is chosen it will be a barrier to communication.
Environment, network access
Environmental; consist of physical things which can get in our way of communication such as unusual sights, an attractive person, Bright lights, or other stimulus offers potential distraction. (Pinker, 1997)
Need in business communication within the company
The term “organization communication” is normally applied by organizations to mean the process that is used to facilitate the exchange of information and knowledge of the organization with its internal and external publics or individuals that have a direct relationship with the organization. Organization communication is usually used within the organization’s internal communication by the managements as share information with the employees’ investors, customers and the organization partners. Such sharing of information builds communication channels and enhances it. (Pinker, 1997) As Mehrabian and Morton (1997) points out business communication in an organization is very vital as a tool of passing out information and instructions to employees in any organization.
Mehrabian, A and Morton, W (1997): Decoding of inconsistent communications, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 6:109-114
Pinker, S (1997): How communication Works. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
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In these days when the workplace may contain people from many other countries and cultures, cross cultural training will provide many benefits. When people from different cultures have to interact and make decisions that are mutually satisfying, effective communication can be impeded by their cultural differences.
It is difficult to work out differences when you don’t know what mind-set another person has; nor do they know exactly where you are coming from. Each person comes to the workplace with certain preconceptions and beliefs about others that they may not even be aware of. We cannot help being influenced by our own culture, even if we are not aware of that influence.
Intercultural training helps us to know things about our own culture as well as the cultures of other nationalities that we may not have been aware of. Learning about how each other thinks gives us more confidence in dealing with divisive issues that may surface.
Once we can understand how another person thinks it removes barriers and allows for more open communication, which in turn builds trust. Once trust is established people can work together to make the workplace much more productive. You can use intercultural training as a means of self-analysis to see which areas of your intercommunication with others need to be improved.
An intercultural consultant can be employed to facilitate the process of working together with peoples of all nationalities. Learning about the hidden influences of other cultures gives you a greater understanding of what makes people behave the way they do.
A good intercultural consultant will also help you to develop listening skills and to understand what they hear within the broader framework of nationality. Instead of focussing on negative differences between nationalities it helps you to find common ground with which to overcome sometimes challenging cultural differences.
Author: Training Consultant
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