International Business Conversations: Be aware of the influence of your own cultural background to build better business relationships

Does your cultural background influence the way you communicate in business conversations?


I asked this question recently in a poll on my LinkedIn site. And yes, you are right. Our cultural background influences the way we communicate in business conversations.


When we live in the country where we grew up we usually don’t notice and think about this matter as long as we speak in our native language. But once we need to speak e.g. in English in a business situation our experiences might change. Especially when you go for example for lunch with your business partners, say: ‘Guten Appetit’ before you start eating your meal and get nothing but bewildered looks. Then you might need to explain why you said it because people might just start eating their lunch like in Britain or the US. Besides the only person who says there “Enjoy your meal” is the waiter.


Speaking with international business partners in English can sometimes seem like a mirror for us. We become aware of habits, values and beliefs which are part of who we are. It is like driving on the left side of the road--suddenly, you find yourself thinking about the way you drive. 


I get the chance to see my own culture through the eyes of others when I support Expat spouses in Germany during their job search period. This is when sometimes my world of business is upside down. When I explain to someone from Spain or France how to write a cover letter in Germany, they can be surprised. To them, the letter can feel overly direct, even pushy. In Germany you sell your skill in the cover letter to your potential employer. The same is true with the written testimonial which is needed for applications in Germany as proof that you actually worked for company xyz. 


The longer I work in an international business context the more examples I see.



Intercultural communication helps us to become more flexible 


So what is the next step? 


You can start to create awareness of your own culture today. 


  • What are important beliefs, values and habits?
  • What are typical proverbs that you might also use? E.g. Wo ein Wille ist, ist auch ein Weg. Where there is a will there is a way.
  • What are some social customs, like my example with the cover letter, in your country?

Tip: once you have replied to these questions it might be worth having a closer look at the way you speak your language. 


Better intercultural communication: notice the way you speak.


When I look at my native language – German – and how it is used I can see that it is rather structured and direct. This might be a way of speaking that I understand best when communicating in a foreign language. That means that other cultures which also speak e.g. English in a structured and direct way are easier to understand.


In comparison Irish native speakers like to use storytelling in their language. So once you are in a meeting with an Irish person they might also use storytelling and a German native speaker might get a little impatient while waiting for the point their conversation partner wants to make. 


Southern European cultures for example tend to go around in circles in their conversations which means you sometimes have to interrupt them to get into the conversation. But as a German native speaker I am brought up not to interrupt others because it is impolite. 


So first of all I have to be aware of my own way of communicating and the way my conversation partner communicates. Then I can start to think about  how I can participate in the conversation. Even if it means to break my own behavioral rules.


Please think about a moment when you felt awkward in an international business conversation. How does your conversation partner approach the situation? 



What will you take away from our discussion on the influence of our own cultural background in intercultural communication? 


When we want to communicate in English in business conversations it is important to be aware of our own cultural background. It influences us in our conversations whether we like it or not. 


How do we do that?


We need to reflect on our own values, habits, beliefs etc. and the way we communicate.


Sounds like a challenge? I’ve seen a lot of clients boost their business confidence by rising to this challenge. I think you can do it too. Once you find your confidence in intercultural communications, you’ll be much more flexible in your communication style and will probably notice this playing out in surprising ways in your own business. E.g. new communication skills to adapt to your conversation partner. Reflection skills and being aware of your own culture.


If you need some support by developing these skills and want to get to know me  please get in touch with me for a free trial coaching session here. I provide coaching to help my clients expand their intercultural communication skills.

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Kommentare: 1
  • #1

    Arjun (Sonntag, 01 November 2020 19:53)

    I can personally relate to this topic of discussion. I needed a lot of time to adapt to the German way of speaking, being from a predominantly eastern culture. It indeed needs a bit of own effort and external support from Professionals.