Working in a multicultural environment is part of our daily professional lives: we have colleagues from all around the world, clients with headquarters in one country, offices spread out internationally, and even a few dreaded conference calls at unhealthy hours.
I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with people and companies from all around the world. Here are a few things I’ve learnt from working internationally.
Understand the local specifics
To be able to sell, promote, optimise a product, a process or a service from a different country you need to understand local preferences. The more you know about the country’s specifics, the better you will be able to work with them.
Take into consideration:
- Preferences based on location: how is the product/service used in this country, what are the current trends (art, fashion…), etc.
- Legal: are their any country specific legal obligations (double opt-out on subscriptions, cookies policy, sweepstakes game rules, image right, etc.) take the time to research and talk to your client’s legal department
- Events: are they any national events, trades, holidays, shows, etc. that could have an impact (good or bad) on selling your product/service?
- Religion: is the country you work with religious, are they any specific holy periods that could impact the business, is there anything that is forbidden or considered rude/inappropriate
- Shops: what is the local set up, what do shops look like, how are they run, etc.
- Environment: is the country cold/hot/rainy/sunny, is it a big or small country, how green is it, what’s the government type, is the country more urban/rural oriented, etc.
How is Digital Locally?
Before you invest millions in a high tech global campaign, make sure you research Digital use and habits in the local markets.
Questions as simple as, ‘how is the Internet connection?’ ‘how do people consume digital?’ ‘how is it used?’ (male/female, young/old, rural/urban, devices, browsers etc.), ‘where do people hang out ?'(is there a specific search engine, social media in this country?), ‘what is the mobile consumption?’ etc.
You need to make sure you adapt global campaigns locally with appropriate digital tools and channels. For instance Facebook is used much more professionally in the US than in Europe.
Knowing how the market uses digital will help you understand users better and create solutions with better results.
Be aware of Cultural Dimensions
Working with colleagues, clients from a different country can be a real challenge. You might be annoyed at a Chinese client never able to tell you if a project can go ahead or you might get frustrated by another missed deadline from some colleagues in Colombia who don’t seem to worry too much about this… But the good news is all of this have an explanation and even better: there is a key to read your international contacts!
Psychologist Geert Hofstede and Organisational theorist Fons Trompenaars have been able to identify several ‘Cultural Dimensions’ to define society’s behaviours and to an extent help you work better globally:
Geert Hostede’s cultural dimensions are:
- Power distance (Hierarchy, level of inequality acceptance)
- Individualism (what is the place of an individual vs a group)
- Masculinity (masculine values (heroism, competition, material reward) vs feminine values (cooperation, humility. Caring, quality of life))
- Uncertainty avoidance (level or doubt/ambiguity/uncertainly acceptance; how is the future perceived and handled)
- Long term vs short term orientation (is the society oriented towards the past or the future, is being on time crucial?)
- Indulgence (fun vs restriction)
He’s also highlighted some useful organisational cultural models that you can find here.
Trompenaars’ cultural dimensions are complementary:
- Universalism vs Particularism (importance of rules, how ideas and practices should be applied)
- Individualism vs Communitarianism (do we refer to people as individuals or as a group)
- Neutral vs emotional (how are emotions expressed)
- Specific vs diffuse (public vs private space)
- Achievement vs Ascription (an individual credibility is created by achievement vs status)
- Sequential vs Synchronic (are things done one at a time or several at once?)
- Internal vs External control (is the environment controlling the society or the opposite?)
This means that a Dutch client telling you that what you sent was rubbish doesn’t mean he’s annoyed and having a go at you, that’s only his direct style of communication…
This will help you understand how to adapt your communication style, who should you talk to and how, what type of communication is best, how to thank/reward, how to plan more effectively etc.
You can also check out intercultural training companies like Communicaid who have a blog on the subject.
Lost in translation
language can be a barrier in international working relationship. it can create misunderstandings, conflicts and restricted interactions.
With English being the global business language, countries across the World are doing a sterling job communicating in a second language, but it can be difficult for individuals to work in a language that is not theirs especially when it comes to technical subjects like digital.
It might also be difficult for them to admit they didn’t understand what you said… It’s ok to make you repeat once but for the second or third time they didn’t understand they are likely to just say ‘yes’ to move on, leave an enormous silence in the conversation or do the classic “Hello?,… hello? I’m sorry I can’t hear you, the line is very bad…”.
If you feel communication is hard with your foreign clients or something wasn’t really understood, rethinking how your write and speak English might help:
- Try to limit the expressions, jargons and phrasal verbs
- Use simple, short sentences and add examples to illustrate
- Don’t hesitate to repeat yourself by paraphrasing to make sure the message is understood: “just to summarize, we suggest doing….”
Always check with your interlocutor that everything is understood at different instances of the conversation and follow up in writing.