However well you manage the travel itineraries and budgets for international business travellers, if the outcome of a trip is not positive then that expense has potentially been wasted.
All aspects of business are directly impacted by the effectiveness of communication — whether that’s in terms of increasing efficiency, achieving goals, solving problems, making decisions, restructuring, selling. The impact of getting it wrong can be far-reaching; both at a personal level through embarrassment and, to your business bottom line.
Cultural knowledge and understanding are both vital ingredients in effective communication. A successful business trip is more about building rapport than it is about getting to your flight on time! Put simply, we travel for business to build relationships and to do business with people.
Lost in translation – more than just words
Language is so much more than just words in the right order. We have different humour, slang, and cultural references that are easily lost between languages. That’s before you even consider that 90% of our communication is non-verbal!
At its most basic, international business travel is pretty pointless if you can’t understand or make yourself understood. You may well get by using a machine translation app to ask for directions, read a menu, or order a taxi. But for high value interactions, or for situations involving complex information, no AI language app is yet close to good enough. And when a lot is at stake is it even worth taking the risk?
During formal meetings it is not uncommon for people with different native languages, who are trying to negotiate in a common language (usually English), to find that they are understanding the gist of each other’s conversation, but that the exact meaning and nuances are being missed. This can lead to misunderstandings, and possibly to mistrust, when you discover at a later stage that you have not actually agreed what you thought you had!
Business card etiquette is one of, if not the, most important area of Japanese business culture and etiquette.
You may also think you have delivered a knockout presentation. However crucially, in some parts of the world, business people will not ask questions if they do not understand something. Without that prior knowledge you could leave from a meeting naively believing you have been well received and understood. That is the epitome of a missed opportunity.
Understanding is much more than just the meaning of words. For example in Korea you’d want to be aware that certain negotiation styles, which are encouraged in the west, can come across as confrontational. One of the things you’d want to avoid, when presenting or negotiating, is phrasing questions that require a direct yes or no answer, as Koreans try and avoid them. Your negotiation style may be perceived as aggressive if you don’t understand how different cultures use their language. They will be as unprepared for your way of doing business as you are for theirs, it is crucial you do your homework first and get one step ahead before meeting in person.
You may think that dining etiquette is universal, but there are so many different cultural nuances that can catch you unprepared.
The pain of a cultural faux-pas
The simplest of gestures and behaviours that are perfectly acceptable in one country can cause offence in another, which ultimately can break a deal or build mistrust. Majority of business travellers are aware of this as 78% of them admit to researching the local culture before travelling.
Getting business etiquette wrong is an easy way to make a poor impression. Did you know that a firm handshake is not universally well received?
In Russia, smiling can be perceived as a sign of insecurity.
In Mexico, choosing not to engage in conversation about your, and your hosts, personal life could be a real snub.
Rules on personal space are not universal. Neither is dining etiquette universal. Greetings and expected salutations also vary dramatically across cultures.
Getting culture wrong can have far greater ramifications than personal discomfort, it can literally cost your business money and reputation (hello Dolce & Gabbana looking at you!).
The Benelux. They may be close neighbours, but their business cultures could not be more different.
Cultural awareness should underpin your international business strategy. Effective planning for business travel should include considerations of the local business processes.
Are the business structures hierarchical or flat? Who are the decision makers? How will decisions be made? What’s the negotiation style? These are all questions that business travellers should be prepared to avoid embarrassment and deliver an effective strategy.
Some cultures have a slow negotiation style that requires building trust over familiarity and process over time. If you are from a business culture that has a faster paced, more decisive, negotiation style you may (incorrectly) believe that the process is stalling. Ceasing negotiations at that point would be naive and costly. It will also require more meetings, and more trips, in your travel budget.
What’s the solution?
There’s much more to planning a business trip than simply booking flights and accommodation. But where do business travellers go to get their information and avoid any slip ups?
CultureMee and whym have partnered to deliver a combined solution that enables every business traveller to get all the cultural insight they need, and to connect with a professional language experts. We’re here to help business travellers at any time — pre trip, on trip, post trip.
whym.global are language specialist for the travel industry. With the whym mobile service individual travellers can connect to a live, human, professional interpreter or translator – anywhere, at any time, on the device of their choice.
CultureMee is the first content platform in the world to help travellers navigate other cultures. Full of practical travel and cultural advice – such as compare my culture, culture videos, handy tips on etiquette – business travellers can also connect with a culture consultant to gain deeper specialised support.
No more scrolling search engines and trawling social video sites to find the answers to your cultural questions. And no more “making do” with a machine translation app. Business travel will never be the same again.
And don’t forget the next time you’re doing business in France, greet your potential business partner with a light handshake.