Do You Have the Communication Skills for a Globalised World?

The sun has long since set on the British Empire, but its legacies live on, not least in the form of the English language – today the most widely used language for conducting international business. But while being an English speaker – native or otherwise, is a distinct advantage when it comes to communicating internationally, language is only one aspect of culture, and to communicate effectively in a globalised world requires a broad range of skills.

It’s a topic I spoke about recently when I gave a presentation at the Women in Energy seminar – par of the Society of Petroleum Engineers annual conference. The petroleum industry is truly global, requiring face-to-face and virtual communications, between professionals from many different cultural backgrounds, but regardless of the business sector you work in, the basic skills you will need to acquire for successful global communications are the same:

  • A level of cultural awareness

The starting point for any meaningful intercultural communication is for all parties to recognise cultural diversity, and develop a level of understanding of each other’s culture. Knowledge of another persons’ beliefs and customs shows respect, and enables you to see things from their perspective. Cultural awareness will also help you to recognise how your own cultural origins may colour your thinking – so you can take action to counter instinctive responses if necessary.

Cultural awareness gives you a filter through which you can run communications, to check that the meaning of what is being said or done is clearly understood by both parties.

  • An understanding of International English

There are wide variations in how English has evolved and is spoken around the globe. These differences – sometimes subtle, sometimes profound, introduce the potential for misunderstanding and miscommunication. As a result, what is sometimes called ‘International English’ has become the lingua franca of international business, rather than British English – or any other kind of English for that matter.

International English has been developed to be universally and easily understood across the world. Promoting clarity and accessibility, it avoids slang, puns, wordplay, colourful phrases, idioms and vocabulary that is harder for non-native English speakers to understand. Like any language, it can be simplified to a greater or lesser extent depending on the context in which it’s being used.

  • Be able to interpret body language

Non-verbal body language has a significant role to play in face-to-face communications; facial expressions, gestures and posture can all be unspoken indicators of how an individual is feeling – and even point to a meaning contrary to what’s actually being said. But body language is far from universal, and the same signal can carry very different meanings within different cultures.

Where there may be no shared language, it’s natural to resort to using body language to communicate, but without a basic understanding of how different cultures use this medium, it can add a further level of complexity.

  • Be competent in virtual communications

For practical and economic reasons, business communications will frequently be conducted virtually, as organisations take advantage of the benefits of new technologies, and for individuals and teams, Virtual or Remote Working (VRW) is becoming increasingly common.

While communicating remotely is an efficient and cost-effective way to work, the fact that parties are not in the same physical space can bring its own challenges, and these are further exaggerated if there is an intercultural dimension. Participants will need intercultural VRW training to make sure that distance and technology do not interfere with clear communications. Contact us to request a FREE guide to VRW working.

With an understanding of each of these general areas, you will have all the tools you need to undertake effective communications in a globalised world. Is a lack of international communication skills limiting the success of your business? Expatknowhow can undertake bespoke intercultural training to develop and improve the global communication skills of you and your team.   Call us now for more information.

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How’s Your CQ? Are You and Your Team Fully Prepared for Working with Other Cultures?

While the following questions are unlikely to crop up in your next pub quiz, knowing the answers to these and others like them could prove invaluable if your work brings you into contact with people from other cultures:

 

  1. If a negotiation in India gets heated because of different objectives, avoid eye contact as it could be seen as aggressive and disrespectful?
  2. Negotiators in Israel often use silence as a pressure tactic to obtain further concessions?
  3. Contracts in Saudi Arabia are expected to include lots of detail and therefore take a long time to create and agree on?
  4. Negotiations in China are best conducted on a one-on-one basis since people generally prefer getting to know you well?

*Answers to questions can be found at the end of this blog.

There are many types of intelligence. IQ (Intelligence Quotient) is one, measuring your ability to deal with concepts like logical reasoning, word comprehension, and computing numbers; EQ (Emotional Quotient) is another – how you recognise emotions in yourself and others, and manage these emotional states. But there’s another quotient, which is increasingly important to living and working in a multi-cultural world.  Your Cultural Quotient (CQ) refers to your cultural awareness – a measure of your capability to function effectively in culturally diverse situations and environments.

As more organisations trade internationally, and even those that don’t are more likely than ever to have a culturally diverse workforce, it’s essential for business managers to understand how an individual’s cultural background may impact on their behaviour.

As with IQ and EQ, few of us will be at either extreme of the CQ scale, and are likely to sit somewhere in the middle. How culturally aware an individual is will be informed by their own personal background and life experience. It’s quite possible to have good awareness of a specific culture you have come into contact with, but still in generic terms have limited awareness. Equally, external influences can mean we unintentionally acquire inaccurate perceptions of other cultures which can inform our behaviour at a subconscious level.

Within an organisation, taking steps to develop the CQ in individuals and teams will:

  • Equip staff with the attitudes and skills needed to interact effectively.
  • Improve communications.
  • Reduce misunderstanding.
  • Avoid causing unintentional offence.
  • Create a positive impression.
  • Demonstrate cultural sensitivity.

Even in a world where travel, trade and migration are likely to bring virtually all of us into contact with other cultures, when you stop to consider the wide range of factors that can distinguish one culture from another – language, etiquette, non-verbal communication, norms and values – and how different dimensions such as time, power and conflict can be perceived, it’s clear that the potential for miscommunication and misunderstanding can be vast.

Intercultural training will help you to:

  • Be aware of your own culture.
  • Recognise others cultures and preferences.
  • Understand and adapt your style to work with others.

Don’t let low cultural awareness damage relationships!

As the explorer Captain James Cook discovered in January 1779, when cultures come together, the cost of miscommunication can be high. Mistaken for the god ‘Lono’ returning from the sea when his arrival in the South Pacific Sandwich Islands coincided with a local festival, he and his crew were given a warm reception. Not understanding the welcome, the crew of his ships took advantage of the islanders’ hospitality. Over several weeks, relationships broke down after a number of cultural blunders which included crew members removing wooden images from a sacred area. Cook’s eventual death at the hands of the islanders is an extreme example of intercultural miscommunication, but in any intercultural situation, a level of cultural awareness is highly advisable!

Are people in your organisation as culturally aware as they need to be? Could cultural misunderstandings be holding back your business? Invest in cultural awareness training with expatknowhow, and we’ll help you to improve the CQ in individuals and teams. Call us now to discuss your requirements!

Answers to cultural questions:

  1. FALSE – To the contrary, making eye contact conveys sincerity in India and might therefore help in this case.
  2. FALSE – Silence is rare in conversations among Israelis, and they don’t usually use it as a tactic.
  3. FALSE – Saudis usually prefer contracts to be simple and high-level, since they consider them a mere formality.
  4. FALSE – The Chinese prefer to conduct negotiations in teams where each person has a clearly defined role. 
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International or Global – Which is Your Business?

Famously emblazoned on the sides of his yellow Robin Reliant van, Del Boy from the TV comedy series ‘Only fools and horses’ has a sign that reads ‘Trotters Independent Trading Co. New York, Paris, Peckham’.  Would this make the fictional company an international or a global business? There is a serious point to my question. Working in a sector where the terms international and global are used all the time, it sometimes appears as if they have become interchangeable with one another, and I found myself wondering what it is that actually separates them. In our new world economy, how should a business with trading connections in other countries define itself, and is there a tipping point where an organisation goes from being international to global?

In the course of an ordinary non-business conversation, the different meanings of the words are reasonably unambiguous – I’m sure you’d understand what I meant if I was to use them in the context of an international football tournament or global warming for example, and dictionary definitions concur broadly on their everyday meaning:

  • International

‘Between or among nations’ or ‘involving two or more nations’.

  • Global

‘Relating to the whole world’ and ‘Including or affecting the whole world’.

Somehow though, when it comes to business use, it seems that the distinctions between international and global can become blurred, even confused. Until a few years ago, a business with customers, suppliers and / or locations in more than one country would probably have described itself as international, but today there’s a good chance it would call itself global – a word historically more likely to be reserved for brands like Coca Cola, BP or Kellogg’s – on the basis that they could genuinely make a claim to have global brand recognition as well as having worldwide operations.

In the last decade or so, there’s been a marked shift in the usage of these words with global seeming to be used increasingly in favour of international. There may be several factors at play here; the word global has a holistic, all-inclusive ring to it, and indicates certain associations and values to which many modern businesses will aspire, while the internet might encourage an organisation to think of itself as global simply because it has a website that can be accessed from anywhere in the world – a perception of global reach that may be very different from reality.

Perhaps part of the reason that global is replacing international can be explained by the fact that many of us now think of ourselves as citizens of the world rather than choosing to be confined by the restrictions of our national identity – whatever that might happen to be. Free markets and migration mean that borders are far less defined than they once were, and preparing to do business in another country is no longer just a case of understanding the culture, customs and language – though of course these still remain fundamental – often, another country will have a population make-up just as complex and diverse as our own. In today’s global world, where a nation will be made up of many micro-communities, why would a business want to limit its activities by expressing the extent of its reach in terms of national borders? Rather, by referring to itself as global, an organisation indicates that it views itself as part of a global community, and does not see national borders as any barrier to where it might choose to trade. What’s more, you do have to concede that Trotters Global has a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ as Del Boy himself might have observed!

What do you think? How do you see the distinction between international and global? Is it a debate you’ve had – or are having – in your business? Do you think it actually matters? We’d be really interested to have your thoughts on the topic here at expatknowhow.

Whatever words you use to describe your overseas business activities, it you are venturing into new cultures, expatknowhow can equip you and your staff with the cross-cultural awareness and communication skills essential for success. Is your team culturally prepared? Call us now and we’ll help you make sure they are!

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Inpats: Relocating staff into the UK

When you hear a UK business talk about relocating staff, you’ll probably automatically think of outward relocation – staff from the UK being posted overseas on assignment – ‘expats’ as they’re known. But of course, relocation works both ways, and in an economy where products, services – and people can move freely across borders, it’s just as likely to refer to staff being relocated into the UK from overseas. Perhaps not surprisingly, these incoming relocatees are known as ‘inpats’.

The UK is an attractive base for overseas businesses, offering skills in areas such as research, development and technology. While the UK’s membership of the EU and its proximity to mainland Europe mean that many inpats to the UK will originate from Europe, globalisation means they might equally come from virtually anywhere in the world.

With any relocation, there is much at stake for both parties; moving people is unlike repositioning any other business asset, requiring careful planning and management, before, during and after the physical move takes place. For the relocatee, a move can be a stressful and emotional time; for the relocator, supporting their employee is imperitive if productivity is not to be interrupted or the investment in time and money wasted.

As with all relocations, inpats coming to theUKwill require support in three key areas:

Practical

None of us is able to function effectively unless the practical issues of day to day life are taken care of; these might range from the major to the mundane, but even the smallest detail, if not addressed, will have the propensity to cause worry and distraction. Ideally, the inpat’s transition to life in theUKshould be smooth and seamless. Areas that will need to be considered will vary depending on the personal circumstances of the inpat, but are likely to include, accommodation, legal and financial matters, and schooling for those who have children to consider.

Pastoral

This area is less easy to define, but is just as important . Once the main practical and logistcal matters have been taken care of, and the inpat is safely set up in their new location, it’s easy to think the relocation process is concluded. In fact, this is precisely the time when the inpat is potentially most vulnerable, and it’s vital they are given all the help and support they require to integrate into their new environment – at home as well as at work. If the inpat has a partner or / and children, it will be important to make sure the whole family is happy and settled. Positive pastoral action might include introducing newcomers to other inpats, and organising social or community events.

Cultural

As with any move into a different cultural environment, inpats will need to have an awareness and understanding ofUKculture in order for them to be able to adapt quickly and settle easily into their new life.

If you are from the UK yourself, and have responsibility for relocating staff here, it’s easy to forget how much of a ‘culture shock’,aspects of UK life which you take for granted can be for people from other cultures. For this reason, it’s worth reminding ourselves of just a few of the cultural dimensions which impact on doing business in theUK.

Key cultural concepts and values that impact business in the UK:

  • Reserve: The British respect privacy and space. Displays of emotion, excitement, anger, pain or happiness may be considered bad manners.
  • Understatement: Self-promotion is considered extremely bad taste.
  • Communication: The British have a strong resistance to public disagreement. A statement such as “Yes, it’s certainly something we could discuss” signifies a real difference of opinion. Within British culture, criticism is exchanged and disagreements often occur, but they are always looking for friendly, diplomatic or polite ways to recognise the differences.
  • Indirectness: The British are renowned for their politeness and courtesy. It’s a key element of British culture and is a fundamental aspect of British communication style.
  • Humour: A vital element in all aspects of British life and culture is the renowned British sense of humour. The importance of humour in all situations, including business contexts, cannot be overestimated.

There is so much more of course – but even from just scratching the surface, it’s easy to see why an inpat may find living and working in the UK very confusing if they are not fully culturally prepared,

Is your business bringing staff from overseas to live and work in theUK? Are you responsible for relocating inpats in your organisation? Expatknowhow can help ensure your inpat staff settle quicly into theUK, by delivering cultural briefings and bespoke training programmes which will prepare teams or individuals for life and work in theUK.

For more information, and to find out how expatknowhow can help you, contact us today.

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Enter the dragon: Doing business in China

In the Chinese zodiac, 2014 is the year of the horse, and according to astrologers, the year will bring mixed fortunes. Those who were born under the sign of the horse are destined to offend Taisui, the god in charge of fortune, so their finances may fluctuate. Those not born in a horse year on the other hand can expect the year to bring them health and prosperity.

It seems that China’s Premier Li Keqiang shares the optimism of this latter group. In his most recent report on the economy he said: “China has the foundation and conditions for maintaining a medium-high rate of economic growth for some time to come.”  China – the second largest economy in the world, enjoyed steady growth until 2008 when, in line with other world economies it experienced a dramatic decline in GDP as a result of the global recession. While recovery for other countries may be slow and faltering, the Chinese government has set a bullish GDP growth target of 7.5% for 2014. It set the same target for the previous two years and managed to exceed it each time.

Economists have differing views on whether this level of growth is really sustainable, or if China is more likely to see the start of a slow down over the next few years. What is clear though, is that China is optimistic about its future, and whatever this holds, it will continue to exert its influence on other economies as it attracts inward investment from around the world, including here in the UK. As UK Trade & Investment state on their website: “China is THE great economic success story of the past 30 years. Whether selling, trading, investing or franchising, China offers opportunities in abundance to UK companies, large or small”.

So is your business looking eastwards to take advantage of opportunities in the People’s Republic? If so, cultural preparation will be essential, this vast country of 3.7 million square miles and 1.35 billion people is complex; It’s a communist state, but it embraces elements of capitalism; its ancient culture influences all aspects of life and business, but the country is driven by very modern ambitions – and everywhere, the pace of change is breath-taking.

Doing business in China

To be successful in business in China, you must be prepared to develop good personal relationships. These will take time to mature, but over time will lead to strong and successful business connections.

  • Meetings
    • Business cards are important – have yours printed in Chinese on the reverse.
    • Be punctual – lateness is seen as an insult
    • Always prepare and send an agenda.
    • Do research in advance. You can be sure the Chinese will have taken the time to learn about you and your business.
    • Allow time in your schedule for a long meeting – decisions are not often made quickly in China!
    • The Chinese often take mobile phone calls in meetings. Do not ask for mobiles to be switched off, as this can cause you both to lose ‘face’.
  • Negotiation
    • ‘Yes’ in China can be used to mean ‘I hear you’ but it does not always mean ‘I agree’.
    • Be patient! Negotiations in China take time.
    • Avoid showing any anger or frustration. The Chinese are notoriously inscrutable and prefer to keep business and emotions separate.
    • Be willing to show compromise, so that the parties you are negotiating with feel they have achieved ‘concessions’.
    • If you use an interpreter, be careful to speak directly to your contact and not the interpreter.
    • It is rare for the Chinese to say ‘no’ – they prefer a more indirect communication style. Show commitment and enthusiasm to demonstrate that you can overcome any unspoken perceived difficulties.
    • Be flexible and polite but firm, to help you develop trust in the long term.
  • Dress in the workplace

The reserved attitude of the Chinese extends to their dress-sense. They favour dark suits, plain shirts and ties, and will tend to avoid bright colours. It is usual for women to dress in trouser suits or plain dresses in the workplace, with high necklines and low heels.

  • Business entertaining

You may be lucky enough to be invited to a banquet during your stay in China. These occasions often include as many as 12 courses, so eat lightly! If you are given rice at the end of a meal, this is intended only as a filler, so don’t feel you must eat everything on your plate. It is a great honour to be treated to this experience, do try to return the hospitality if you have the opportunity.

And finally, don’t forget these three words…

Mianzi: Mianzi means ‘face’. An understanding of the concept of ‘face’ is crucial to ensure your success in Chinese business. To ‘lose face’ is to be criticised or insulted in public.

Renching: Renching is related to face, and means to grant an honour or a favour to someone. Such an act does not require an immediate response, but the person receiving the honour will remember it and try to find a way of returning the favour in future.

Guanxi: Guanxi refers to the process of forming and maintaining relationships based on trust, to the benefit of both parties. If you are prepared to help others out, you will find they return the favour, and you can start to build your guanxi network.

Are you about to take a business trip to China for the first time? Is your business planning to trade with China and you are going to be posted there on a long term assignment? The potential opportunities are huge, but you will need to adequately prepare yourself or your team to maximise the return on your investment. Expatknowhow can deliver cultural briefings and bespoke training programmes to prepare teams or individuals for success in China.

Get in touch with us now to discuss your requirements.

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Is Your Business Prepared for Success in Indonesia?

As discussed in our last blog post, the economist Jim O’Neill has identified Indonesia as one of 4 so-called MINT countries (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey) that he believes have the potential to move into the world’s top ten economies over the next three decades. If O’Neill’s predictions are correct, Indonesia is likely to experience a significant increase in interest from foreign businesses looking to invest and establish trading connections.

With a population in excess of 250 million people, Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country, and is also currently the largest Islamic nation.  This immense archipelago is characterised by a unique mixture of distinct ethnic, linguistic and religious groups that have contributed to Indonesia’s rich and diverse culture.

In order for an overseas business to achieve success in this complex market, it is vital to understand and have an appreciation of the cultural nuances that define Indonesia.  Last year, expatknowhow was asked by a major hotel and leisure operator extending its interests in the region, to present a cultural briefing on Indonesia to senior staff. The key objectives of the briefing were to increase awareness of key issues and values influencing Indonesian business culture, highlight differences in working practices, and to provide practical strategies for working effectively with Indonesian colleagues. Some key elements of the presentation are summarised here.

Communication Style

Indonesians tend to communicate in a subdued and indirect manner. Because they don’t always say exactly what they mean, the listener must pay attention to body language and gestures.  Polite and diplomatic, Indonesians will make great efforts not to offend others, and will do anything to save face even if it means avoiding confrontation, or telling others what they want to hear.

Time

Time is approached in a very relaxed and flexible manner – business negotiations are not rushed, and time is not always taken to plan fine details.  Indonesians do not share the typical Westerner’s sense of urgency, and punctuality is not always observed.  Because time is not money, Indonesians will often show more interest in developing relationships than in profit or material success.

Conformity

Indonesia is a collectivist society that places higher importance on the group than the individual.  Family and community concerns will always take precedence over the business or individuals.

Religion

Islam influences Indonesian business culture in varying degrees, but it is essential to always be sensitive to it. During the month of Ramadan for example, although foreigners are not required to fast, it is considered impolite to eat or drink in front of others.

Doing Business in Indonesia

After gaining its independence from the Netherlands in the mid-twentieth century, Indonesia shifted from a democracy to an authoritarian government.  Economic strife and political instability coupled with corruption, terrorism and civil unrest have resulted in slow progress in the latter part of the twentieth century.  Major political reforms have taken place in recent years that have moved the nation in a positive direction.  Petroleum, natural gas and textiles account for the majority of industry in Indonesia with services accounting for the majority of its gross domestic product.

Essential Tips for Doing Business in Indonesia

  • Enquire politely at the outset how an individual wishes to be addressed. Don’t assume from reading their name that you know how to address them correctly.
  • When given a business card do not put it away. Study it & treat it with respect.
  • Never show anger as this means a loss of face. If you are annoyed, be firm but polite.
  • Indonesians prefer to do business with people who like them. Demonstrate your appreciation of Indonesian people & their culture.
  • Avoid talking about ‘the way things are done at home’ as if this were a better way. Instead offer options & suggestions.
  • Do not touch anybody (even children) on the head, as this is considered highly offensive.
  • Do not point with your index finger, especially at a person. Indicate direction with hand gestures & the thumb, but not outstretched.
  • Do not shake a woman’s hand unless it is offered. Acknowledge her presence with a slight bow of the head in her direction.
  • Do not sit with the soles of your feet facing another person, as this will cause offence. Visitors to Indonesia sometimes accidentally do this when they cross their legs while seated.
  • Indonesians are known for their sense of humour, but avoid religion & politics.
  • Bring presents from the West if possible. Books & pens are popular.
  • Do not get flustered if you are asked for bribes.

Does your business have connections with Indonesia? What have been your experiences of working with other businesses an people from this culture? Please share with us any of your own personal tips. Does your business have plans to trade with Indonesia? Expatknowhow can deliver cultural briefings and bespoke training programmes to prepare teams or individuals for success. Get in touch with us now to discuss your requirements.

 

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Anyone for a MINT? Fresh Thinking on the Next Big Economies

It’s more than a decade now since Jim O’Neill, the British economist and former Chairman of Goldman Sachs first coined the acronym ‘BRICs’ to describe the four emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China – which he predicted would shift the balance of global economic power from the developed, to the developing world. Now Professor of Economics at Manchester University, O’Neill has been looking further into the future, and has recently revealed four more countries that he envisages could become new economic powerhouses. He believes that the MINTs as they are being collectively called – Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey – have the potential to join the top 10 largest economies in the world.

What is it that O’Neill sees in these particular countries that makes him think they could all be contenders? In a series of programmes for BBC Radio 4 called ‘MINT: The Next Economic Giants?’ he highlights a number of factors behind his reasoning, including their population profiles and – in the case of three of them, their geographic locations.

“What they really share beyond having a lot of people, is that at least for the next 20 years, they have really good “inner” demographics – they are all going to see a rise in the number of people eligible to work relative to those not working” he says. “This is the envy of many developed countries, but also two of the BRIC countries, China and Russia. So, if Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey get their act together, some of them could match Chinese-style double-digit rates between 2003 and 2008.”

Referring to their locations, he points out that with the possible exception of Nigeria; all the MINTs have geographical positions that should be an advantage as patterns of world trade change. Mexico has both the USA and Latin America as its next door neighbours, while Indonesia, in the heart of South-east Asia, retains deep connections with China. Turkey on the other hand is in the unique position of straddling the East and the West.

Although Nigeria’s situation is different – at least for now – O’Neill reminds us that this could change in the future “if African countries stop fighting and trade with each other.”

 

 

 

 

 

Having visited each of the MINT countries himself, O’Neill has some interesting observations to make on them individually. In Mexico, it is the government’s plans for a programme of radical reform that particularly impresses him: “I was all set to be disappointed, as expectations are so high, but the young president and his equally young colleagues are full of determination to change the place. They are reforming everything from education, energy and fiscal policy to the institution of government itself”.

Talking about Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populace country, he highlights infrastructure and leadership as two of the biggest challenges facing the country, but points out that there are huge opportunities too: “I talked to a man building the country’s first Ikea store, who reckons a third of greater Jakarta’s population of 28 million (the third biggest conurbation in the world) would have sufficient disposable income to shop at his store”.

In the case of Nigeria, the country will have to overcome problems that include a desperate energy shortage if the economy is to boom. O’Neill puts it in perspective with a staggering statistic: “About 170 million people in Nigeria share about the same amount of power that is used by about 1.5 million people in the UK.” With virtually every business in Nigeria having to generate its own power, the costs to the country are huge, and O’Neill reckons that simply by resolving this one issue, Nigeria could see its economy double in just six or seven years.

On Turkey, O’Neill thinks that politics and religion can sometimes be at odds with doing business the ‘Western way’. While he expected to find similar issues in Indonesia, he observed that: “In Jakarta at least, the Western way of doing things seems to be generally accepted – in striking contrast with Turkey.”

Of course we will have to wait some time to see if the MINTs – all of them or indeed any of them can live up to the golden futures being predicted. In the short to medium term, it will be interesting to see if O’Neill’s tip attracts investment to these countries on any scale. Of the BRICs, only China, now the world’s second largest economy has really lived up to the growth hype. India had a rough 2013, suffering from high inflation, a rising current account deficit and a run on the rupee. Russia is seen as over-dependent on its oil and gas, and Brazil’s economy shows signs of contracting.

Perhaps your business is already trading with some of the MINTs? If so, what are your experiences? Do you share Jim O’Neill’s optimism for their future? Please get in touch to give us your own perspective.

If your business is venturing into fresh territories and new cultures, expatknowhow can equip you and your team with all the skills needed to engage in successful, cross cultural relationships.

Note: Much of this blog is based on information taken from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-25548060

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Communicating internationally: Is your team culturally prepared?

If your business plans involve international expansion, and dealing with customers, suppliers or partners from different cultures, ensuring that every member of your staff is culturally aware must be a key focus. However successful your product or service might be in your domestic market, it is destined to fail unless you can demonstrate genuine cultural sensitivity as you roll it out.

The people in your organisation will have developed an approach to doing business which will inevitably be influenced by their own cultural perspective. Many of the most basic aspects of business etiquette will be second nature to them – meeting & greeting, dress code, time management, management style – and much more besides.  But business etiquette changes widely across cultures, and to be ignorant of how to behave appropriately runs the risk of a serious misunderstanding or causing unintended offence.

What can you do to make certain your team are fully prepared and ready to make a success of your business in a new culture?

  • Undertake cultural awareness training

Where individuals or teams are required to work with other cultures – either face to face or virtual – cross cultural training will help to ensure effective communications. Training will look at broad areas such as values, morals, ethics, business practices and etiquette from the perspective of the specific culture in question and will help staff to develop better working relationships with contacts.

  • Understand communication preferences

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that people from other cultures will want to communicate in the same way that you do. Communication preferences vary greatly from culture to culture, so make sure you take time to really understand the preferred style and the means of communication. In the western world we have a tendancy to get straight down to business from the start, and to use the written medium – most often email – as our first line of communication. Some other cultures though, will want to know personal details about the person they’re dealing with before starting to talk business, and may prefer to open communications by speaking one to one on the telephone, via Skype or face-to-face.

What language will you use? This might vary from individual to individual depending on their personal preference, and you may have to set up internal systems to make certain all communications are tailored accordingly.

  • Learn how to behave

Closely related to cultural awareness training, your staff will need to learn to behave differently when they meet contacts from different cultures. This will include familiarising themselves with local customs and rituals -  in Japan for example, there is a strict etiquette around the giving and receiving of business cards, while in the Middle East, it’s seen as an insult to show the sole of your shoe, or the bottom of your foot. In theUK, we are normally comfortable to be speaking on first name terms at the beginning of a business relationship, but in other cultures this will be seen as being over-familiar if practiced too early.

  • Be patient & take time!

In a culture that is not your own, finding the right person to deal with can sometimes be frustrating; even when you identify them, getting a meeting may be difficult, and you may have to have several meetings before you begin to make real progress.

Remember that time is viewd differently across cultures. Northern Europe and the US are ‘Monochronic’ – seeing time as a commodity with the consequence that being late for anything is generally perceived as disrespectful. Other cultures such as southern Europe, Latin America and the Middle East have a quite different, ‘Polychronic’ approach to time. For these cultures, time is flexible and days are planned around events rather than the clock.

Are you planning to take your business into new international markets? Expatknowhow can equip you and your team with all the skills you will need for effective cross-cultural, intercultural and virtual communications. Get in touch with us now to discuss your objectives and find out more about how we can help you prepare to trade internationally!

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Communicating internationally: Thinking global? Act local

If you are an ambitious business with plans to grow, the opportunity to trade overseas can be an attractive proposition. You may be seeking fresh, untapped new markets to promote to, or perhaps you’re looking to outsource the products or services you need at more cost-effective rates than your domestic suppliers can provide.

For your business to have become successful you will have developed processes and procedures which will be understood by your staff, suppliers and customers – but the way of working you have established will be tailored to trading domestically. Doing business internationally will require working in a new way – getting into the mindset of the culture you are dealing with, and tailoring all aspects of your organisation  to accommodate differences:

You may have global aspirations, but the key to building a successful international business is to always act locally wherever you trade, so that however your overseas connections may engage with you, they will get an experience tailored to meet their cultural expectations. The adaptations you need to make will, to a large extent be dependent on the nature of your business, but here are some of the areas you may have to consider:

Customer service

You might offer your customers a range of ways to contact you; by telephone, email, live web chat, or in writing – to name just a few options. Your staff will need to be culturally aware, and have the necessary skills – including the relevant languages, to deal with your international customers. You may need to consider employing local staff for some key customer service positions.

Communications

All of your communication materials – your website, advertising, brochures and promotional collateral will need to reflect the culture you are appealing to. This is not simply a case of translating content into the local language – the words, colours, images and overall style will have to conform to cultural preferences.

Product packaging 

If you are promoting a product to international customers, you will almost certainly need to have packaging, labelling and any instructions translated into the local language. In some circumstances, it might be necessary to completely review design, branding and imagery – perhaps even the name of your product; all of these areas can influence how you are perceived in another culture.

Commercial practices

Commercial practices vary widely around the world, and you would be well advised to research this area thoroughly before taking a product or service to market overseas. Avoid falling into the trap of making assumptions that are informed by your domestic experience of doing business. For example:

  • Different legislation may apply.
  • More importance may be placed in a handshake than a lengthy contract.
  • Sales and marketing channels may differ – using a local distributer might be a legal requirement.

Local  knowledge

Staying informed about what’s happening locally in your market sector is important. There are many different ways you might consider gathering intelligence including:

  • Briefing your sales agent or local representative (if you use one) to keep you updated with news and developments.
  • Subscribing to local trade media.
  • Joining local trade associations if they will allow you to.

Relationships

While implementing all of these actions, remember that there is no substitute for getting face-to-face when it comes to developing key relationships. For those relationships that are critical to your business plan – high value customers, vitally important suppliers, intermediaries such as sales agents, you should take any opportunities you can to meet in person. This is especially important in the early stages, but you should also try to schedule in visits at regular intervals to help ensure your plans stay on track.

Do you have plans to expand your business into new international markets? Does your workforce have the skills they need to be effective in their cross-cultural, intercultural and virtual communications? Expatknowhow can help you prepare you and your team for international success – get in touch with us now to discuss your plans, and find out how we can help you!

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Communicating internationally: Keeping it local on the World Wide Web

The internet makes it easy for businesses to promote their products and services to markets anywhere in the world, but communicating with an international audience is very different to communicating locally. If you are creating a website with the aim to grow your global customer base, you need to be extremely sensitive to cultural differences, and design your site specifically so that it will attract, engage and be accessible to the audience you want to appeal to.

The importance of tailoring your online presence is emphasised by the fact that some big international brands will create completely unique sites for different countries. While this is a solution that’s likely to be out of reach to most small and medium sized businesses, there are plenty of steps that can be implemented to help make sure a site delivers a good user experience for international visitors:

1. Language

  • Use local languages first

Your website should ideally speak to your audience in their local language. Even though English is widely used in international business, a website that gives visitors the option to select to read the site in their own language will demonstrate courtesy, and show an understanding of cultural differences, helping you to engage quickly.

  • If you do use English, make sure it’s ‘international English’

If you decide you are going to use English anywhere on your site, make sure that you follow the rules of international English (see our previous blog post for more information) (link to previous blog here) to ensure clarity, and to make sure your message is accessible to the widest possible audience.

2. Contact details

  • Address & telephone information

Ideally, give visitors a local telephone number they can call you on – this will help to inspire confidence and will increase enquiries. whatever number you use though, add your country code to make calling easy, ensure the number is manned during the working hours of the country you’re targeting, and that it’s answered by someone with a knowledge of the language.

3. Design

  • Be careful with colours

The choice of colours for a website must be selected with care. In different cultures, colours can have meanings which may be communicated without intention. In Ireland for example, orange has religious connotations as it is associated with Protestantism; in Egypt, yellow is the colour of mourning, and in India, white is the colour of unhappiness.

  • Make use of images

A picture speaks a thousand words it is said, and used carefully; images can help to aid communications by reinforcing a message with a pictorial representation. Take care when using stock imagery which may carry unintended cultural messages.

4. Technical

  • Use country specific domains

Visitors will be reassured by country-specific domains – Brazil = .br, Canada = .ca, Italy = .it, Sweden = .se and so on.

  • Avoid slow loading

Many international internet users will not have access to fast broadband and for this reason a site that takes a long time to load is unlikely to do well. In addition, Google uses speed of loading as one of its criteria for ranking, so the slower a site, the lower it will be ranked. Using local hosting services can help address this issue.

  • Make any forms internationally compatible

If your site has forms for visitors to complete, ensure fields are relevant to the audience – terms such as ‘post code’ and ‘county’ for example have no relevance in many parts of the world. Remember to include a field for ‘country’ too.

If your business is working internationally, do you have a strategy for how you communicate through your website? If you’d like to add to our tips above, we’d really like to hear from you at expatknowhow.

For help with all your cross-cultural and intercultural needs, get in touch with expatknowhow now!

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