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Knowing your audience's cultural background is an important part of international business communication.
The structure of a successful business talk might also be influenced by cultural conventions. For example, if your audience includes lots of people from a so-called “uncertainty-avoidance” culture, they won’t like risks or ambiguity, but they do value expert opinion and details. Back-up data or analyses from specialists will make a good impression on them. They like to work towards a decision rather than proceed from an assumption.
Some cultures allow for more flexibility and spontaneity than others with a punctual and rigid approach. Please adjust your time schedule accordingly if you want to be successful in international business communication.
Preferences for visual aids, graphics, and color schemes may vary from culture to culture, too. You will probably be working within the framework provided by corporate identity and design. However, if you can make adjustments to create a better visual experience which takes your audience’s taste into account, feel free to do so.
Just like different words mean the same thing in different languages, body language is by no means universal. This doesn’t make international business communication any easier.
For instance, a nod signifies “yes” in many countries, but “no” in parts of Bulgaria and Greece. In some cultures, it would be extremely rude to point at a person directly with one finger. Even beyond such single gestures, the concepts of eye-contact and personal space differ greatly.
Some audiences value formality and credentials more than others. Pay attention to how you dress yourself, how you greet your audience, and how you make the introductions if you want to come across as professional.
Displays of emotion can backfire in some cultural contexts. In many Asian countries, showing your emotions openly is an impolite no-go, and there are even more cultures where restraint and understatement are held in high esteem, e.g. in large parts of Scandinavia. Always take this into consideration with regard to international business communications.
As an international business communication pro, you should never forget that your audience’s general reaction to your presentation can be influenced by their cultural habits and assumptions.
First of all, people from various cultures might have different expectations about the desired outcome of a business meeting.
- Is it an opportunity to reach a consensus?
- Will there be an argument about the pros and cons of a proposal before reaching a decision?
- Is it simply a way of establishing relationships and creating good will?
All these unspoken expectations (and many more) are possible.
Moreover, there are quite a few ways of showing attention and interest. For example, some Japanese people may listen attentively while putting their heads upon their arms and closing their eyes. What is an acceptable manner of expressing concentration in Japan is interpreted as “taking a nap” or “drifting off” in other contexts.
Last but certainly not least, audience participation and debate culture vary widely in international business communication. In some countries, the members of the audience will quickly become embarrassed or insecure if you single them out for involvement or directly ask them for their opinion.
Others, though, will appreciate every opportunity to express their point of view as bluntly and straightforwardly as possible, as this is seen as normal feedback in their business context. This doesn’t automatically mean that they are trying to tear you down. However, if you are not versed in international business communication, such incidents are likely to baffle you. You might be inclined to think that someone is trying to insult you personally.
If you don’t neglect your cross-cultural training, though, you will be well prepared for all aspects of international business communication. You will thus improve your presentation or even your management skills.