Culture cannot be global: doing business outside your comfort zone

Dorottya Okros|12th April 2017

Communication is a critical business skill, and in marketing, it is our business. Mastering the art of communication, however, usually means reading books or taking seminars run by people from our own culture who are teaching us how to communicate better within that culture. But you can be the best communicator in all of Britain, and still fail to get your point across in a meeting with the EMEA or CIS Director of Marketing if you haven’t taken their cultural communication style into account when preparing for your meeting.

Cultural context is everything when you’re working with teams from a different background to your own. Think of how many times you experience miscommunication and misunderstanding with your own family members - and these are people who share your cultural context.

In this article, Senior Associate UX Researcher Dorottya Okros talks through the common communication and negotiation pitfalls of working with Eastern Europe and the CIS for British presenters.

Culture develops on different levels

Culture develops at a national, local, and even company or team level. And communication styles can differ wildly from culture to culture. You might see this on a micro level within a company – one brand team may have a manager who prefers very direct, succinct communications, while another brand team may communicate in a more formal, long-form style. Neither is ‘wrong’, but if someone moved from the formal style team to the direct team, they would likely have an initial struggle to adapt.

Now magnify that problem to the country level. From a business perspective, understanding national behaviour can be the key to success when developing content and strategy for our clients, or simply, when we have a business meeting with an affiliate. Think of how many companies sit within the EMEA region. This grouping into a region falsely suggests that Europe, the Middle East, and Africa will have the same requirements, same understanding, and same attitudes, culture, approach, religion etc. Clearly, they do not. And treating a meeting with the brand leaders of EMEA as one entity would be a grave mistake.

As soon as we understand the cultural differences between regions, and even the differences within that specific region, we can better prepare ourselves for the upcoming conversation, negotiation, or presentation. We can prepare more relevant deliverables, and hold better trainings and workshops. We can also foresee their reactions to our plans for them. Meeting cultural and communication needs is essential.

Getting communication right: an Eastern European example

Because British managers tend to be more politically correct, confrontation avoidant, and emotionally less expressive then other cultures, they may face great challenges when they need to hold a training for Eastern Europeans (who are more confrontational and emotionally expressive). When providing feedback, they would say things they are used to within their society and culture. For example, “I only have a few minor comments regarding your document”  is understood by Brits to mean that one should think again and have another go at the document, but for anyone else, this could be understood at face value as minor suggestions.

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