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Other Cultures Are Not Like Yours

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No matter who you are or where you live, no matter what nation or culture you come from, you will need to recognize one very important truth when you do business with colleagues in other countries. Other people - although they may dress like you, speak your language, or even work for the same company - are not "just like you".

You'll do business with people that have very different histories, languages, and ways of doing business. They will have a different sense of time, and a different sense of humor. They will have different ways of negotiating, and different perceptions of when a deal has truly been made. They will also have different expectations of what it means to follow through on commitments and agreements. In a word, they will have different cultures!

You need to know the rules.

Are you a sales manager setting up new distribution channels? A service representative working with overseas colleagues to set up new systems? A manager helping to run an overseas subsidiary or open a new manufacturing plant? Whoever you are, whatever you are doing, if you are interacting with people from other cultures, you need to know something about them.

A Cross-Culture Awareness course can be an essential first step in that process. When you do business with companies in other countries, you are not just staying in a different hotel, eating a different meal, and meeting in different offices. You are entering someone else's world, and you need to understand the history of its people, the rules the culture runs by, and the way they view the business process.

Inter-cultural understanding does not come overnight. It will only come with preparation, effort, and an open mind.

Every business traveler should know something about the country they are visiting - its history, its people, its heritage. It helps you make conversation, helps you learn more from the experience, and is a sign of respect for those you are meeting.

Once you understand the basic facts about a culture, and something about its social rules, you are ready to do business. When does yes mean yes? When does maybe mean no? When should you raise the issue of payment? How are commitments followed through? - In order to get the best results, you need to know how business is done in your partner's culture.

Social issues form the backbone of any culture. People in different countries conduct their lives in different ways: Which color flowers to bring? Which hand to shake? How to address your colleagues? Who speaks first? It is far better to know the rules than to risk offending anyone and losing a deal.

Knowing the rules is one thing. Being prepared for the little things that can go wrong, is quite another. And little things can always go wrong!

Companies worldwide are actively training their staff in Inter-Cultural awareness, sensitization and communications in order to help their sales, service and management employees prepare for interacting and doing business, successfully, with other cultures.

They include manufacturers, service companies and consultants from electronics, telecommunications, pharmaceutical, construction, government, training and education, tourism, automotive, consumer electronics, marine engineering, and many other organizations.

How do we prepare for a different culture? An environment that, for all its outwardly similarities, is completely different from the one we are accustomed to? For instance:

How do you manage a team of culturally diverse employees?

You must negotiate contracts, but does your counterpart share your cultural preconceptions just because he is dressed like you?

You must hire and train new staff, but how is time and education viewed in another culture? You must host a foreign delegation, but what are their goals and cultural needs?

How do you respond to an ambiguous command from your manager if he/she is from a different culture?

However, with the process of globalization, especially the increasing of global trade, it is unavoidable that different cultures will meet, conflict, and blend together. People from different culture find it is hard to communicate not only due to language barrier but also affected by culture styles. For instance, in independent cultures, such as in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe, an independent figure of self is dominant. This independent figure is characterized by a sense of self relatively distinct from others and the environment. In interdependent cultures, usually identified as Asian as well as many Latin American, African, and Southern European cultures, an interdependent figure of self is dominant. There is a much greater emphasis on the interrelatedness of the individual to others and the environment, the self is meaningful only (or primarily) in the context of social relationships, duties, and roles. In some degree, the effect brought by cultural difference override the language gap. And this culture style difference contributes to one of the biggest challenge for cross-culture communication. Effective communication with people of different cultures is especially challenging. Cultures provide people with ways of thinking—ways of seeing, hearing, and interpreting the world. Thus the same words can mean different things to people from different cultures, even when they talk the "same" language. When the languages are different, and translation has to be used to communicate, the potential for misunderstandings increases.The study of cross-cultural communication is fast becoming a global research area. As a result, cultural differences in the study of cross-cultural communication can already be found. For example, cross-cultural communication is generally considered to fall within the larger field of communication studies in the US, but it is emerging as a sub-field of applied linguistics in the UK.


As the application of cross-cultural communication theory to foreign language education is increasingly appreciated around the world, cross-cultural communication classes can be found within foreign language departments of some universities, while other schools are placing cross-cultural communication programs in their departments of education.

Institute of Cross-Culture Communication

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