The world may have become smaller for many businesses due to globalization but not understanding the cultural differences when dealing with new cultures can hinder the growth of a business.
Globalization demands working with different cultures, whether it is between colleagues at work or business partners. The international labor market requires the employment of talents from different cultures and backgrounds. It has become common for some employees to work remotely. These modern requirements and methods of working lead to better working relationships, expansion of business and innovations. However, the speed by which globalization and internationalization happened caused some clients and employees to be unprepared to deal with new cultures.
In the current situation, it is very clear that a possible business deal or a working relationship can break if parties are not aware of and accepting of cultural differences.
Differences in culture in a business setting
You cannot disagree with the fact that globalization shrunk the world. But is it good or bad for business?
The conduct of international business today is definitely faster. The developments in communication and transportation technology and faster Internet and better communication services led to global business collaboration. People from different countries, speaking different languages and having different cultural beliefs and practices can now meet, communicate and conduct business quickly and efficiently.
Some people believe that this new global intimacy spawned greater realization of what was previously foreign or alien, which results in the fading of cultural differences. But is this the true picture?
Reality in facing new cultures
It is not true that cultural differences are slowly diminishing. When people from different cultures meet, the differences become more glaring. You get to realize that what you are thinking is often not what the other person is thinking. Many factors influence the way people think, with their culture being a major factor that shapes a person’s actions, reactions, thoughts and beliefs. So when doing business with a new culture, the possibility of people not being on the same page is higher.
It could be a serious situation when a business makes a mistake especially expensive ones. The company can lose money and recovering the losses can take some time.
When a company does business globally, it is inevitable that they will have to deal with foreign customers, clients, partners and colleague at some point. It is essential for the company to rein in all the potentials from the international setting as competition is fierce, Many industrialized nations are seeking new markets for business growth and expansion, which means facing new cultures. If major nations were able to dictate how business should be conducted in the past, the present business setting allows new and emerging nations to dictate the pace and the manner of conducting business.
Why is this so? Because many nations are competing for the business benefits that consumers from new cultures can bring. So, from previously dealing with major countries like the United States, United Kingdom, France or Germany, now the international business stage has to deal with South Korea, China, India, Japan, Brazil and Mexico. The major nations before were saying our way but now it has shifted to try to understand your way in order to find a common ground. The shift in attitude has to do with the how the performance of business organizations from the West was affected by their lack of cultural awareness.
Many global companies are making huge investments in language lessons for their staff, and many have conducted training for cultural sensitivity to tackle new culture issues such as proper approaches for negotiations, different styles in communication, business protocol and business etiquette.
People around the world differ and doing business globally necessitates that people should be sensitive to cultural differences. Many businesses failed to grow globally because of inadequate knowledge, especially in the field of language and culture.
Cultural blunders can be costly
Culture touches many realms, such as history, politics, lifestyle, behavior, religion and mentality. Business failure can be attributed to lack of understanding of new cultures. A simple error can be worth millions. Here are a few examples.
This is an old issue, but it’s still worth mentioning because it is definitely an example of a lack of cultural knowledge. When Windows 95 was launched in India, it had a color-coded world map that showed different time zones. However, the developers, who had very little knowledge of geography, colored eight parts of India in varying shades of green that showed the Kashmiri territory that was in dispute. With the difference in color, it indicated that the region of Jammu-Kashmir was not part of India, which, under Indian law, is an offense. For the error, Windows 95 was banned in India and Microsoft had to pull out 200,000 copies of the operating system from one of the largest markets in the world.
You would think that a global company such as Microsoft would exercise prudence in producing products for the international market. In another cultural blunder, the company offended the government of Saudi Arabia. This time it was due to a computer game where the soundtrack used the chanting of the Quran. The company issued a new version without the offending soundtrack but the previous versions were not pulled out in other areas. The faux pas led the Saudi government to ban the video game and demand an official apology from Microsoft. The company had to destroy 75,000 copies of the video game. Another banned game from Microsoft showed churches turned into mosques by Muslim warriors.
Translation errors in the Windows XP version for the Latin American market showed gender selection options — male, bitch and not specified.
In 2005, a 30-second McDonald’s TV ad caught the ire of the Chinese consumers and government officials. The ad showed a middle-aged Chinese kneeling down, asking for a discount from the owner of a store. The voiceover explains that McDonald’s understands the sadness felt by people when a good opportunity is missed, so the fast food chain is giving discounts throughout the year.
For the Chinese, begging is a shameful act and consumers think it insulted them. They interpreted the ad as McDonald’s giving them alms through discounted products. They correlate it to showing beggars some mercy. Although the actual scene of the man going down on his knees was only about five seconds, it made such a huge impact on the Chinese consumers, long enough to cause an uproar. The ad had to be pulled out because of cultural insensitivity.
Importance of cultural awareness
When dealing with different and new cultures, it is not advisable to assume that what works in your culture will also apply to other cultures. Understanding new cultures translates to better planning and development of marketing and business strategies because you understand the sensitivities of your target audience. Lack of cultural understanding leads you to developing weak strategies, some of which may even be offensive to your prospective markets.
For example, you cannot show ads in Thailand featuring animals wearing accessories intended for humans because they consider animals as lowly life forms. In India, you should not have ads featuring an owl, a bird that symbolizes bad luck.
We assume that you have encountered mistranslations that cost several companies millions in an effort to rebuild their damaged reputations, regain lost revenues and recapture the trust of consumers. The mistranslations may elicit laughter but in reality, they are very costly and not something to dismiss with a laugh.
Language is an important consideration, because it is very easy to make a mistake when you do not know the meaning of a word in other languages. A razor manufacturer from Iran for example has a quality razor called Tiz, which translates to ‘sharp’ in Persian. But in Qatar, where Arabic is spoken, Tiz is a slang term to indicate the ‘buttocks,’ a term that is not relatable to the product and offensive to the consumers. It caused the company to lose sales big time.
Avoiding blunders in new cultures
One of the surest and safest ways to avoid committing blunders in new cultures is to learn more and accept the cultural differences. Learn business etiquette, habits and preferences of colleagues from other countries. The tips below could start you off.
When in India…
- Do not call a person, especially a new acquaintance, by their first name.
- Remove your shoes before entering a place of worship or the home of someone. There are also shops that require people to remove their shoes.
- Stay on the safe side and do not order beef, because cows are sacred in India.
- Accept or receive things with your right hand.
- Indians like to argue and engage in debates.
- Acts of hospitality should not be refused.
- Workplace hierarchy is important.
- Wait for your host to introduce you.
- A handshake is all right but it is more customary to bow. The level of respect is shown by the depth of the bow.
- Accept things with both hands, including receiving a business card. Treat a business card from a Japanese colleague with respect. Inspect it carefully and keep it with you during the meeting. Store it in a safe place afterwards. It’s a sign of respect to have your business card translated into Japanese and have the translation printed on the reverse side of the card. Present your business card with the Japanese translation when handing it out.
- Protocol is important to the Japanese so wait to be told where to sit.
- Every person attending the meeting is important. When doing a business presentation, present to the most senior member of the Japanese team.
- Practice using chopsticks before you go to Japan. Do not use them to point at people or things. Do not empty your glass so you won’t get a refill. On the other hand, eat every grain in your bowl if you do not want additional serving of rice.
- Learn to read body language. Watch out for frowns, scratching of eyebrows or head and head tilts.
- Remove your shoes when entering someone’s home or a restaurant. Make sure that you use the toilet slippers but leave them in the bathroom after use.
Going global may do wonders for the growth of your business. Ensure its success by spending time to learn about new cultures. Doing so will ensure that you accept and understand your new markets and consumers.
Cultural awareness and understanding is vital to the success of global businesses
Ensure that you are sending the right message to your business partners and target audiences with professional translation. Get in touch with Day Translations, Inc. for all your language services requirements. Our translators are native speakers and experienced in dealing with different cultures and their expertise can help you improve your cultural awareness. Get the right kind of translation and language support by collaborating with us because we speak your language. We are open 24/7 every day of the year so you can immediately get in touch with us. Call us at 1-800-969-6853 or send us an email at Contact us anywhere you are located.