In International Business, foreign cultures are known for their power to influence the success of businesses operated in foreign markets. There are thousands of books and articles written on how to set up a business overseas. If you may recall, the previous post highlighted by use of examples how foreign culture and communication can affect a company’s way of doing business abroad and if not dealt with properly, can stand in the way of a company’s success.
Still on the same issue of foreign language and cultural communication, it is important to realise that we don’t all perceive messages the same way. Sometimes, you need to put your message in a local language and ensure the meaning of your messages translates correctly, so that it doesn’t sound offensive or arrogant. Further, even though cultural differences are known for their impact on habits and social activity, these days, social media makes these aspects, visibly sharp and if escalates may echo allover the world with just once simple tweet as it was seen in the case of H&M South Africa (Read more about that here)
So, why is understanding the cultural aspect so important before setting up a business abroad? Well, basically, realise that culture is a powerful factor and depending on the nature of your business, you need to know that it can influence anything from generation of an idea e.g. Product idea, product design all the way down to how the end customer receives the product. And sometimes, failure to take account of the different cultural norms can be damaging and costly to your business or even consequently stand in the way of your company’s success. (Read here for some of the most highlighted blunders from well known international companies, that cost them millions of dollars just because of miscommunication)
Others had to immediately withdraw their products from foreign markets because the direct translation of their products was a real blunder and others were in fact, close to an insult in the foreign markets they were serving. ( Real case examples)
The aspect of foreign culture is not just about the local language spoken. Culture also involves other elements such as- common behaviours, people’s attitudes, their sensitivities, etc. We’ve heard about certain issues such as gestures which at first may seem too obvious and foreigners repeatedly fall in the habit of misunderstanding them and if not careful, highly successful and well mannered business people can easily be judged and immediately categorized as offensive, disrespectful and arrogant. This also applies in situations where successful business people fail to understand the significance of a handshake in foreign countries or even the dress code. (Learn more about the significance and importance of a handshake and gestures in an international business environment)
Other areas that are often easily misunderstood, and if not careful could be damaging, include the chosing gifts and gender related problems where cultural approach to business negotiation, matters the most. Professor Hofstede is well known for extensive research in areas related to how culture influences the success of a business organisation.Particulary, his work has examined how gender roles affect negotiation processes depending on individual countries. In some cultures, certain business men get extremely irritiated and feel insulted, when women get involved in their business transactions (even meetings). Religion is another powerful cultural aspect which business people need to consider as an important factors and realise how it is intergrated in international business activities. According to studies, religion has influence on the employee productivity. This ofcoutse depends on their country of origin and how religion is viewed in that particular country.
Still on cultural communication, a common observation is usually on the concept of high and low context cultures where what you ‘hear’ might not necessarily means that’s what you ‘get’. For example, i know people in certain countries and of different cultures, whose ‘YES’ may actually mean a ‘NO’. That can be really irritating or frustrating, especially if it’s a business negotiation. Get to know these things before hand otherwise you’re likely to learn the hard way, and that might cost you a lot of time and money! Most importantly, undestand that these major differences may vary accross continents, countries, cultures etc. A majority of Germans for example, have no problems with saying ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ and coming straight to the point. Other cultures indeed find it difficult to agree, and other struggle to say ‘No’. ( More on how different cultures agree and disagree)
The area of culture and communcation in international businesses is very broad! But it pays to atleast understand the basics of how that may affect the success of your business..