Cultural differences in communication

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”  Nelson Mandela

Language isn’t the only difference when it comes to international business dealings. You need to understand your client’s cultural values too. If you are not aware of cultural differences when dealing with your international clients, communication problems can arise. Our cultural and personal values influence our behaviors and communication when it comes to intercultural and cross cultural business.

Different interpretation

English, the lingua franca, of the international business community, is used throughout the world by governments, international corporations and various institutions. But does everyone who uses English interpret it in the same way? Culture has a huge impact on how English is perceived and understood by different nationalities. As a global population, we all have differences when it comes to our value and belief system, our attitudes, preferences and sensibilities. These are all a deciding factor in how we communicate. We believe that we are all speaking the same language – English, but in fact our cultural differences mean that we all use English in a different way.

Active vs passive voice

For example, Asian cultures usually practice more formal intonations of a language and use a more passive voice. The Brits and Americans are more used to using their active voices. In Asian cultures, a refusal is portrayed differently to how an American or Brit would convey a refusal. It may be perceived as being blunt, but no is a full sentence. Within some cultures being blunt is seen as being rude, even though a Brit or American will mean no impoliteness. In the UAE someone might say “did you reach?”, when asking if you got home, to the office, or wherever you might be going. The Brits can come across as witty and sarcastic in their communication, the Germans prefer formal, concise, no fooling around communication.

Make or break

If we were all the same, the world would be a boring place, and it’s the same with communication. You have to listen carefully in international business, differences however slight or subtle, can make or break communication. Remember, when you are writing for your clients, you are not writing about yourself. You need to become your client’s voice, and have a clear understanding of their business, their persona and their customers, wherever they may be in the world.

The key takeaway here is that when you are working within international business communication, you need to have an understanding of your client’s culture and the culture of their customers. So, don’t just translate a text, capture the culture of your client within the text. A cultural copywriter, aka a copywriter with expat experience can help you do just that.

Nadine – The Orange Typewriter & expat