However, in order to succeed in a different country, you have to be able to communicate effectively in the native language. This is as much about efficiency as it is about common courtesy; after all, you can’t simply assume that everyone will speak English. However, perhaps just as importantly, it’s also vital for businesses and their representatives to understand the culture and customs of any foreign country that they deal with. To achieve this level of understanding, without having to experience excruciating faux pas’ or losing major contracts, you need cross-cultural training.
So what is cross-cultural training?
In essence, it is a form of tuition that goes beyond simply learning a language. While understanding the grammar, pronunciation and words are hugely important, they can count for very little if you break with cultural conventions. For instance, while you might think that doing the ‘a-ok’ symbol with your fingers is a gesture of goodwill, in Brazil this is actually perceived as a massive insult. The same is true of other gestures, such as the thumbs up.
We all want to appear polite and professional, particularly when working overseas. So misinterpreting a symbol or phrase can prove damaging. While some may be able to laugh off any cultural differences, others may be less forgiving – particularly if your actions are seen as insulting. On the flip-side, it’s also important that you don’t overreact or perceive any such customs as a sign of rudeness. In Russia for instance, some professionals will be late – sometimes over an hour – without any form of apology or reason; again, this is just how they choose to do business.
So essentially, cross-cultural training will make you aware of how customs differ in particular countries. It will often work well in conjunction with language training, as both will ensure that you’re fully prepared for all of the vocal, as well as physical, differences in communication.
Why is it so important?
Context is everything. We can all take offense at a glib remark or a gesture of some kind. So what may seem insignificant to us, can be viewed as highly insulting in another culture. In Western etiquette we generally start and finish formal occasions, such as a business meeting, with a handshake. This may not be the same around the world, so you need to learn the conventions of the places you’re travelling to. What can you say, what shouldn’t you do, are there any major faux pas to avoid?
As mentioned, we can all accept a few clashes when it comes to mixing cultures. Phrasing might not be perfect, some customs may appear a little awkward, but by and large, people will give more respect to those that make an effort over those that don’t. So while a slip-up may be acceptable, a litany of errors and insults could be a step too far.
So, if your business is looking to expand overseas or you’re sending employees to negotiate with clients around the world, it’s important that both language and cultural training are undertaken first. This will provide you with the most comprehensive understanding of what to expect and ensure you’re fully prepared for all forms of communication – both professionally and personally.