Five tips for better communication with your partners abroad
Speaking the same language isn’t enough to close a deal, lead successful negotiations or gain the trust of your prospects abroad. Similarly, speaking louder or slower when communicating in “International English” with your partners won’t do the trick. What you’re really looking for is cultural sensitivity and an ability to read between the lines.
Below you can find some helpful suggestions to help you prepare and interact with your foreign business partners.
1. Analyse the cultural context
Before you start your online or face-to-face meeting, spend some time thinking about the culture of your business partners. Are there any differences between your culture and the culture of your partner than can influence your negotiations? Are there any typical business behaviours, patterns or strategies used in the foreign country? Do they go straight to the point or prefer small talks? Do they communicate directly? Answering these questions will help you prepare for the meeting and understand the cultural context and communication style of your prospects or customers.
2. Learn the greeting procedures
Depending on the cultural gap between you and your partner, you may want to learn and adapt some simple gestures or phrases. For example, in Japan it’s customary to bow when greeting your customers or business partners. Also, you’ll need to use proper titles for each person you meet to show your respect. In some countries you’ll already be able to use the first names of your partners during the first meetings, but in many regions, you’ll need to address your partners more formally. The first impression matters, so find out in advance how to greet your prospects and how to address them to avoid unpleasant surprises.
3. Don’t compare apples with oranges
When doing business with representatives from other countries you might be tempted to refer to their place of origin, either to show that you know the culture or that you visited the region in the past. Tread carefully here! What might be similar or familiar to you, may not seem the same to your partner. Don’t tell your Danish partners that their country is amazing only because you just returned from holiday in Finland and assume that these two countries share many similarities. Or don’t refer to the Russian culture when doing business in Poland, assuming that the language, cuisine or local rituals are practically the same.
4. Watch and listen
Whether it’s a business dinner in a foreign country or the first video conference with your partners with a different cultural background, the best policy is to watch and listen carefully. By analysing the behaviour and tone of your partners, you’ll be able to adjust your strategy and approach to avoid confusion. For example, if a weird dish lands on your table, wait to see how your hosts deal with it and try to follow their lead. Or if your partners prefer to use visuals during your video conference, try to adopt a similar approach for your next meeting.
5. Don’t forget to smile!
No matter how well you prepare and how much you know about the foreign culture, there is always a risk of small misunderstandings or gaffes. The best solution is to treat such situations with a smile, turn them into a joke and apologise, if you’re afraid your partner may feel offended by a culturally inappropriate gesture or behaviour. After all, mistakes are quite often the best way to learn and will definitely help you remember the right approach for the next time.
Are you planning a business trip abroad? Having troubles communicating with your prospects? Tell us about it and we’ll see how we can help!
If you want to learn more about communicating with business people from across the world, check out our Intercultural Business Communication course at Udemy.
Dorota Pawlak is a localization consultant for digital brands. She enjoys helping businesses enter new markets and is passionate about cultures, languages, and technology.
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