Communicating across cultures in the business world can often be confusing and uncertain, but it doesn't need to be. With a little bit of homework and open-mindedness you can avoid some of the barriers, pitfalls and potential faux pas when communicating cross culturally. As the founder of Get Konnected -- a cross-cultural business networking event for urban and international business executives, professionals and entrepreneurs of all cultures -- let me offer some helpful tips:
Do your homework
Research ahead of time what is an appropriate greeting in a particular culture. For example, is a nod, handshake or a bow preferred? For women, while I do not advocate subservience to blend with a particular culture, I do recommend that you be reserved.
Know your audience
If you are in doubt about what to do, observe what others are doing. Discern what seems to be the "norm" and then follow suit. When speaking avoid using idioms, slang and acronyms without explanation. In America, humor is often used in the workplace but in many cultures the use of humor and jokes in the business context is considered unprofessional. Besides, jokes do not always translate well cross-culturally.
In many cultures in the developing world, friendship and family are the key to establishing strong business relationships. Many Latinos and people from the Caribbean for instance, value friendship first and business second. The premise is if you build a friendship, there is always time to get down to business.
Always have lots of business cards. In some cultures, you give a card to everyone you meet. In the Chinese and Japanese culture, you should always accept and give business cards with both hands. Upon receipt of a business card, study it first, before putting it away. Never write on it or put it in your wallet or pocket, instead use a card case.
Don't refuse hospitality
Hospitality is very important in many cultures, and people go out of their way to make a guest comfortable It may be considered an insult, so don't refuse this hospitality.
The bottom line is to be respectful and sensitive of other people's culture. The key to successful cross cultural communications is to minimize mistakes and maximize the potential to foster positive cross-cultural relationships. After all, business flourishes where both parties enter into a mutual union of understanding and trust.