A Guide to Intercultural Communication in the Business World

Intercultural Communication skills are those needed to share work-related information. While proper language skills are an important component, they’re not the only ones. Proper cross cultural communication also requires an understanding of different cultures’ social norms, standards, customs, and thought patterns. Effective communication is an essential skill for anyone working for a global company at home or abroad, and it’s the only way to avoid offenses and misunderstandings. Read on to learn more about the importance of business communications among different cultures. Also interesting: how a secure virtual dataroom allows controlled access to documents around from anywhere in the world.

Important Knowledge for Intercultural Communications

Crucial knowledge areas for businesspeople include:

  • Knowledge of different countries’ cultures, histories, and ways of life
  • Recognition of these aspects’ effects on behavioral norms
  • Understanding of how a country’s culture can affect its language and communication style
  • Awareness of potential conflicts between the host’s values and one’s own
  • Sensitivity to cultural stereotypes (i.e. the role of women in business)

These areas and others are discussed in greater detail in the sections below.

Why Business Etiquette is Important

A person’s professional success depends largely upon his or her etiquette and manners, but efficiency and respect are overlooked by many in today’s competitive business climate. A businessperson with proper etiquette can leave a favorable impression on a host when they’ve taken time to learn about the cultural differences between the two countries. When workers take time in this regard, it adds a layer of security to collaboration and negotiations. Common rules of international etiquette include those listed below.

  • Turn off electronic devices to focus on those present. Using these devices during international business meetings prevents the growth of a relationship, and many cultures see it as being disrespectful.
  • Think before speaking. This step ensures the sensitivity and diplomacy of speech. Building a relationship takes time, and a single careless comment can destroy trust before it’s built.
  • Learn involved parties’ names and acknowledge the good works of subordinates.
  • Always send a proper thank you card. Taking time to include a note shows that the organization values the new business relationship.


East/West Cultural Differences

Where decision-making and business communications are concerned, the East and the West have some radically different points of view. Workers should be aware of these aspects when attempting to build interpersonal relationships.

  • Time. While Westerners place extreme significance on punctuality, Easterners take a more flexible approach.
  • Attitude. Westerners are seenas detail-oriented and analytical, while Easterners prefer well-rounded, holistic solutions that benefit the entire group.
  • Communication styles. The West has longbeen known for conversational openness, but certain topics are still considered taboo in the East.

While some of these cultural differences are more important than others, considering them can make it easier to ensure proper etiquette and cross-cultural negotiations.

The German Corporate Culture

German businesspeople tend to be averse to risk, and their decision-making processes can seem drawn-out to foreign counterparts. Proposals are thoroughly and carefully examined, and executives should allow additional time for negotiations. German business follows a rigid hierarchy, and each person has a different role. Directness is preferred, and presentations should include plenty of researched, accurate figures and facts. Greetings should be polite, and handshakes should convey reliability and confidence.

Doing Business in India

When engaging in negotiations with Indian contemporaries, it’s important to consider the importance of the country’s social conventions. While English is the preferred language during negotiations, Hindi is sometimes used. Indian businesspeople do not often say no during negotiations, and disagreement must be shown in other, subtler ways. Physical touch is considered an affront, and gift-giving is a common approach. While punctuality is valued, it’s also important to be flexible with meeting times.

American Business Culture

Laughing in a business meetingAmerica is the world’s melting pot, and people of all nationalities go there to do business. Where the country’s business culture is concerned, diversity is less common. Americans believe that sacrifice and hard work lead to success and prosperity, and innovation is valued. Time is an asset, as is money, and punctuality is important. While people are friendly, they get straight to the point. Criticisms should be carefully worded, and silence is uncommon during business meetings. Unlike many other countries, humor is a common part of business dealings in America. Many people prefer to meet for lunch, and such meetings should be scheduled right away. The U.S. economy is one of the world’s biggest, and time invested in America can be beneficial in the long term.

Chinese Corporate Culture

Chinese businesspeople expect contemporaries to be prepared for meetings. All meetings start with small talk, as relationships are important to the Chinese. The country’s corporate culture is hierarchical in nature, and those in charge should enter the room first. While many prefer to bow or nod, others shake hands, and formal titles are used during introductions. The Chinese like to deliberate over business decisions, and many wait until a time of luck before making such a decision. Many look forward to working with the Chinese, but business relationships are only successful when outsiders take time to learn about the Chinese culture.

While many of these business etiquette differences seem insignificant, they are extremely important. Anyone doing business in other countries should be aware of cultural differences or risk negatively affecting the negotiation process. Those doing business in the East place an enormous value on hierarchy and harmony, and Westerners are more laid back. By taking the time to understand these cultural differences, companies make it easier to conduct business in countries such as China, India, Germany, and the United States.

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