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Cultural sensitivity in the global marketplace

Cultural differences and similarities between people exist without assigning them a value

Gary Muddyman | 13th May 2015

How can you make sure that your global business communications are successful? Is sensitivity or flexibility the answer?

Mastering a language is about so much more than words, and here at Conversis, we take cultural sensitivity extremely seriously. We use in-country translators who are specialised in their field – pharmaceutical, legal, marketing, engineering etc, but along with their specialisms, they have the local knowledge to help make sure that the message is adapted and relevant to the local population.

Our translators have a great deal of experience in this and so cultural faux-pas are easily avoided. But what happens when you, as a foreign visitor with not as much experience, arrive in a country and have to navigate the differences of the local culture? It isn’t something you can just ignore, wading blindly in and hoping for the best is certainly not the best tactic. It could mean the difference between completing the deal or not.

There are plenty of resources you can use to do your homework before you jet off, and it is worth spending a bit of time researching the basics of the local language so that you are at least able to use greetings and say thank you. The BBC has a page entitled ‘Quick fix – essential phrases in 40 languages’ and there are many websites dedicated to helping you avoid causing offence to your hosts when travelling, including this one from Even the UK Foreign Office offers some information and advice on local customs and culture in their travel advice pages. Advice includes treating business cards with respect in Japan, always leaving some food on your plate in Russia, and what hand gestures to avoid in Brazil.

It is worth bearing in mind that, just like you, your hosts will want to make sure the meeting goes smoothly, and are therefore unlikely to make you feel uneasy. If they work for a global company and are used to dealing with delegates from across the globe, they will almost certainly be forgiving and flexible in terms of cultural differences.

Inside companies such as Conversis, where there are many nationalities represented, flexibility is the order of the day when it comes to cross-cultural communication. Of course, nobody would want to offend another member of the team, but cultural differences are more likely to be the subject of curiosity or even gentle jokes. We just make sure we use the thumbs-up rather than the okay sign when talking to our colleague Maíra (Brazil)!

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