We are increasingly working in a globalised world with colleagues, clients and suppliers from different countries. According to research from the law firm Baker McKenzie, Chinese companies invested 3.84 billion pounds in the UK in 2018. Furthermore, British companies are increasingly competing with global companies for contracts and employees are working as part of global teams with numerous different nationalities.
Avoid making damaging communication mistakesThis article will explore five cross-cultural mistakes to avoid when working with people from other cultures:
1) Not understanding different communication styles
In different countries people communicate in different ways. For example generally German and Dutch people are very direct in their communication style – what they say is what they mean. On the other hand, Japanese people often communicate in an indirect manner. This means that you will frequently have to read between the lines if you want to understand their meaning.
Furthermore, in some countries simple words such as “yes” can have different meanings. In most western countries when people reply “yes” it usually means they understand what was said and agree to do something. On the other hand, in several Asian cultures when someone uses the word “yes” it simply confirms that someone is listening to you. Someone might say “yes” and then later on say “no”, or you might find out that they didn’t understand what you said.
In this case it is important to double check if the other person understands your point by looking at their facial expressions, asking them to summarise what you said or sending them a summary of what was agreed in writing.
2) Comparing other cultures to your own
Some expatriates working overseas sometimes struggle to get used to different cultural habits. For example, this could be French people kissing on the cheeks in greeting or Japanese bowing. If you keep comparing a different culture with your own in a negative way you might offend people from that culture, and it could lead to conflict. This can affect your ability to build strong relationships.
3) Being negative or critical
Some people complain a lot about working with clients or colleagues from other cultures. If you are negative about other nationalities or cultures and criticise the way they behave, this will have a very negative impact on your ability to work together.
4) Not adapting to the other culture
Some expatriates work in other countries but do not adapt at all to the local culture. They live in a compound with other expatriates, they don’t eat the local food and they don’t mix with the local people. These same people often do not adapt their style of communication and way of conducting business, then are surprised when they struggle to be successful.
When working with clients or colleagues from another culture it is important to read up on the cultural differences and common cross-cultural misunderstandings. This could be something as simple as giving and receiving a business card with two hands in China.
Cross-cultural differences are important to consider when working with clients and colleagues from other countries to ensure your staff work efficiently and productively. If you would like to improve the ability of your staff to work more effectively with clients or colleagues from other cultures, read about our Cross-Cultural Communication Training.