Why ignoring intercultural competence can be bad for your business

Veröffentlicht am 17. Juni 2024 um 11:24

When you hear the word culture, what comes to mind?

You may think of different architecture, art, physical gestures, or greetings.

Surely, this is all part of a culture, but there is more.

Culture is the mindset of people who have a different national identity than yourself.

Here, I am talking about values, beliefs, education, authority and respect, family life, and much more. It all shapes the way we think, speak, and act.

What happens when you don’t consider a business contact’s culture? 

Would you believe that something as simple as “How are you?” can lead to misunderstanding, bad feelings, or even spoil your rapport?  

Read on to see what happens when you fail to take culture into account in your business communications--and what to do instead.


Cultural Communication Errors: When a greeting goes wrong.


I often encounter a lack of cultural awareness in my coaching when businesspeople mention how English-speaking cultures use the expression “How are you or How is it going?” to them. Often, my clients use words like “superficial” or “empty” to describe these exchanges.

I understand the thinking behind this, but nevertheless, it is a way to judge a culture and point out differences instead of looking for the things you have in common.

Judgment: To call English speakers’ superficial means to judge them or their entire culture. Judging people often comes through in your communication, creating an unpleasant feeling that hinders your business relationship. Try to notice when you’re being judgmental and replace that with curiosity. The atmosphere of bridges, not borders, is usually for collaboration, partnership, and business. 


Cultural Communication Error: Negative attitudes and generalization.


Let’s take the example of “How are you „a little further. The next cultural communication error I see people making is a negative attitude. English-speaking cultures are generally superficial. 


It is usual for the human brain to generalise because it is the first step in recognising the world and "ordering" perception. But then you need to reflect on your thoughts and ask yourself whether what they suggest is true.

Otherwise, it means you don't understand or take the time to understand the other culture. In this case, you lose something when you take the shortcut of generalisations.

When an Anglophone asks, "How are you?" remind yourself that this doesn't mean the person is not interested in you. They have just another way of showing it. Answering when someone asks you with: "I'm fine thank you. How are you?" means that you recognise the other person and are ready to start a conversation.

Ignoring these phrases completely is like slapping someone in the face. 

Even if your conversation partner is not expecting you to give a detailed account, he or she is still recognising you as a person. When you see it the other way around, an English-speaking person doesn't say "How are you ", which means they don't recognise you hence you are not interesting at all to them.

So try to appreciate and embrace other cultural mindsets and ways of doing things instead of judging them. It means before you jump to a conclusion, ask yourself:

" Is what I think really true? How do I know it is true?"


Cultural Communication Error Consequence: Damaged business relationship.


The worst-case scenario is that our incorrect cultural assumptions lead to business misunderstandings and lousy rapport. 

Imagine someone says, "How are you?" you feel slightly offended and annoyed at how anglophones are so superficial. You are a little 'short' in your answers or come off as being 'abrupt.' That can be a sign of annoyance in Anglophone cultures. It can also be a sign that you're just not interested in your conversation partner. Instead of creating a sense of connection and rapport with a bit of light small talk, you create tension and discomfort. Is the business conversation that follows likely to go well?

You see here how a negative spiral occurs that can lead to a loss of business.

Because your business partner might not just pay attention to your super product, or the business deal you offer. If you make a business contact uncomfortable or come off awkwardly, and the person is considering other partners, they will go with the other company for sure.

And what would an awkward atmosphere here mean for you as a company representative? This is the way you do things and deal with people from different cultures. It can also create a loss of face for you as well as respect with your colleagues. Your colleagues and managers might assume the problem is your poor customer service attitude - and not a lack of cultural understanding.




Even if your business partner is as deal focused as you are, they might still consider rapport and communication equally important to the deal.

In conclusion, it is important to reflect on one's own culture, stereotypes, and way of behaviour when dealing with other cultures. 

Where are you judgmental, and what might the consequences of being judgmental be? 

Ideally, you should try to be neutral and non-judgmental. It means not to make any comments on the other person's culture. Keep in mind that no culture is better than another, they just do things differently.

In addition, try to be curious about the way you do things in your business partner's culture. Here you can also ask questions and find out the deeper meaning behind their way of doing things. 

Do you want more tips on how you can become a better Business English communicator with less stress? Sign up for my newsletter.

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