Have you ever been caught out saying the wrong thing at a business meeting abroad? You wouldn’t be the only one. We are so wedded to our native cultures that sometimes we just don’t think. Cultural references, something as simple as “How’s the craic” can leave our listeners with a blank stare. For the non Irish craic (pronounced, crack) is Irish for fun and a colloquialism that trips off our tongues.
I remember working in Amsterdam many years ago, barely out of college and Ireland. The discussion was on first names. In mixed company, one who was an Arab and Muslim, I made reference to Christian name – which for me meant first name. No sooner was it out of my mouth than I realized the literal translation, followed by a bright red blush. It just never occurred to me! Needless to say, that was the last time I ever used the term. Since returning to Ireland, I’ve noticed people still say Christian name.
Nobody is going to shoot you for saying the wrong thing but with a little more care we can spare our blushes and make it easer on ourselves, our prospects and clients. Cross cultural marketing and networking does require more attention to the detail. In a conversation with one of my business associates, [/caption]
- Marketing Cross Culturally
3. Presume an open mind. Be curious. The more open you are to others, the more you will learn.
4. Bring lots and lots of business cards. In some cultures, you give a card to everyone you meet, not just people you want to follow up with. If possible, have them translated.
5. Be observant. Watch what others are doing, discern what seems to be the “norm” and then follow suit.
6. Wait to be seated if you are sitting down. You don’t want to sit in the most important seat if you are not the most important person.
7. Slow down the pace of your dialogue. Don’t use idioms, slang and acronyms without explaining them. Don’t assume industry specific vocabulary is understood.
8. Investigate what local cultural values are for specific colours. Choose suits, ties and dresses appropriately.
9. Learn what are “safe” questions to ask in that culture: ie many cultures don’t get into really personal questions when they first meet. If networking with Americans don’t be put off by personal questions.
10. Watch the alcohol intake. When people are nervous they often drink too much. Be careful so that you won’t make the wrong first impression.
And the 11th tip, enjoy and learn.
Please do share any other tips you feel I’ve left out and, if you’re brave enough, your own personal gaffs. Many thanks to Kari Heistad for her contribution.