You’ve just started a new job abroad but how do you communicate? Should you be direct with the Germans but not with the Japanese? Should you avoid first names in Poland but use them in Australia? If an Indonesian asks about your weight are they being friendly or rude?
Tip 1: When giving feedback, be as direct as you can. Concentrate on what needs to be changed or improved and point that out. Instead of ‘Perhaps you could consider...’ use something more direct such as ‘Some of this is not right, please change xyz.’ As rude as that might sound for a Brit it isn’t for a German. Still not convinced? Keep in mind that feedback which seems polite to a Brit might be both confusing and even seem dishonest to a German who values direct communication.
Tip 2: Be careful with using British humour. Germans use humour much more sparingly in professional situations. Also, British irony is often lost on Germans - and many other cultures for that matter! British people joke as a way to get someone on their side but sometimes they achieve the opposite when doing this abroad!
Tip 3: Don’t be surprised if after your presentation the German audience applaud by knocking on the table repeatedly using their knuckles.
Tip 1: Brits tend to aim on using first names too fast (or immediately) when speaking in Polish. Poles tend to be more formal and would like to be called Pan or Pani for quite some time. When speaking English, first names usage is more common but just remember to be a bit more formal initially than you would in the UK.
Tip 2: A big challenge is operating around the business calendar, which is somewhat shorter than that of the UK. Bank Holidays can often be on a Wednesday or Thursday and it is common for people to take a day or two before the holiday or even the whole week off. Always check for business holidays before planning a trip and then check with who you want to meet to make sure they will be at work.
Tip 1: Brazilians tend to associate English speaking people with the US, and might be a little confused when faced with a slightly different accent and sense of humour than they are expecting from an American.
Tip 2: Business meetings are often scheduled about two weeks in advance. Also, make sure you reconfirm the meeting with a call or email a day or two before it is scheduled to take place.
Tip 1: Panamanians do business with people, not companies. So a focus on building a network and maintaining relationships is key. This means finding ways to spending quality time with people and not just jumping to the task.
Tip 2: In Panama the sense of time, urgency and deadlines can be very different than in the UK, so be very conservative in estimating how long it will take and how much it will cost to complete a project. This applies to large scale projects as well as a tasks you outsource or delegate.
Tip 1: You will almost certainly be offered snacks or tea at business meetings. It is good practice to wait for the host to drink (or eat) first or to specifically ask you to eat - before starting to drink.
Tip 2: Indonesians may not hold back on some topics not often discussed or considered rude in the UK. These could include your weight, marital status, age and religion. Plan an answer you are comfortable with ahead of time on these topics.
Tip 1: Most communication, even if the person is in the cubicle or office next to you, will be done through a computer screen on an instant messages programme. Do not take it personally if people prefer an instant message or text to a phone call or face-to-face conversation.
Tip 2: Taking clients out for lunch is really important – a lot of locals are taking out clients to celebrate ‘Christmas, New Year and Chinese New Year’ in one meal. Going out for an informal drink after work as you would in the UK does not work well in Hong Kong. This would be seen as an official work event no matter how informal you want to make it.
Tip 1: There’s a more social approach to business in Australia. After meetings at the office, it can continue socially at restaurants or pubs. Sometimes there may be even be personal invites to people’s houses for BBQ’s. This is just as important as the main meeting to build that relationship and get to know the client better.
Tip 2: Dress style is largely smart causal rather than full business suits. More conservative businesses will certainly still dress more formally but in many cases being ‘overdressed’ will not be seen as a sign of respect as it might be in the UK.
Alyssa Bantle is an expert in cross cultural training, a professional business coach and Global Curriculum Manager for Crown World Mobility, a worldwide company that helps corporations manage global talent and helps talented individuals perform on the world stage. She is based in Miami.