Cultural Language Barriers
Common language doesn’t equal common culture and it’s easy to believe that on a plane to London from New York for a series of business meetings with the British subsidiary of an American corporation the thought could be that the visit can be made without a cultural guidebook for understanding how to behave in a new place. After all, how different could British and American people be in their behaviors and orientation at work?
Turns out, quite different! Just because two cultures share a common language or are in a similar part of the world does not necessarily mean that they share a common business culture. This sounds like an obvious point, but it’s one that people often overlook when doing business overseas, especially in countries with superficial similarities that can mask important underlying differences. Assumptions like these can lead to awkward — or unprofessional — interactions in a different culture.
For instance self-promotion is one of the strongest differences between the U.S. and the UK. As anyone familiar with U.S. business communication culture knows, Americans aren’t shy about “talking up” their accomplishments and selling themselves. In the UK overt self-promotion isn’t only uncommon; it’s essentially taboo.
Examples abound about cultural differences between countries. Just because two nations speak the same language does not mean that travelers can venture out without doing the necessary cultural research, particularly when seeking business success. Same language countries don’t all share common business communication styles. Realizing that superficial similarities can mask important underlying differences is a key point to remember no matter what culture the visitor is adapting to.
Share any “faux pas” you have made because of incorrect assumptions.
Adapted from an article by Andy Molinsky, Brandeis International Business School