The world certainly is a much smaller place than it was even five years ago. Online, digital technologies mean that increasingly commerce is taking place across international boundaries and many businesses are trading directly in new markets in other countries. And language isn’t the only barrier that companies face in a global economy. Cultural sensitivity is becoming increasingly important in this context. Other countries will have different social norms from the ones that you are used to in Western cultures. So what can you do to make sure that you don’t inadvertently cause offence or alienate partners, suppliers or potential customers in other countries? Well, in this article we put forward three ways in which you can become more culturally sensitive in a global economy.

  1. Do your homework

Make sure you do some background research into the countries that you are currently working in or are hoping to break into. And don’t assume that you know all there is to know about their society even if you’ve visited many times before. It would be a big no-no, for example, to serve up sausages or alcohol to a group of executives from Indonesia. And while in the West we are taught to look people directly in the eye when talking to them, in Japan this is considered to be rude or even aggressive. In addition, it may be customary in the West to shake someone’s hand when you first meet them, but in other cultures you might need to bow, hug or even kiss them on the cheek. So check out the cultural sensitivities beforehand as offending the culture of the company or potential clients that are you hoping to get on board could easily backfire on you.

  1. Make an attempt with the local language

No one will expect you to become fluent in Korean overnight, but using even a few words or phrases of the local language is often very well received. It demonstrates that you’ve made a real effort to bridge the culture gap and have attempted to understand the other’s background and social norms. And as a result your business relationships will be more positive and successful.

  1. Use reputable translation services

Selling products or producing advertisements in a foreign country will require you to use the host country’s language. Be sure to use a translation service that understands the language to the standard of a native speaker. Being insensitive to the nuances of a foreign language can inadvertently lead companies into all sorts of problems. The alcoholic beverage Irish Mist, for example, ran into trouble when marketing their product in Germany as the literal translation of the word ‘mist’ means ‘manure’ in German!

And so, in our culturally diverse world, one of the keys to international business success is knowledge of the impact of cultural differences. If you want your company to succeed on the world stage then being culturally sensitive is a fundamental aspect. Make sure you don’t offend or alienate your prospective partners and customers by using these tips to develop your cultural awareness.