Doing business with someone else in the UK is one thing. You both speak the same language and live within similar cultural circles. It’s not hard to do – as long as you have conversational skills, you’re good to go.
International audiences are much different. It’s hard to communicate in general, and it’s even harder to communicate well to the point where you’re seen as personable by the other party.
This is your handbook for communicating well with an international audience. Your audience can be customer, suppliers, partners, or anyone else – these five points hold true no matter where you are or who you’re doing business with.
1 – Recognise cultural sensitivities
It’s one thing to make a joke or reference that doesn’t cross the language barrier (the other party can’t understand what you’ve said).
It’s quite another to make a joke or reference that successfully crosses the language barrier… and offends the other party in some way.
You may think that with international communications, you can stick to the core basics and do business well. But as most business owners know, communication is often the most important part of doing business – sometimes, business relationships are created or destroyed based on the personal relationships of the two people at each company.
So you have to go beyond the basics and get somewhat personal – but you also have to make sure that you’re not offending anyone.
Research the country of the person you’re doing business with. Learn how that country communicates, how they perceive foreigners, and what they’re fond/not fond of in general.
You can never be 100% sure that someone will like you – but putting in the effort to try and come off in a good light never hurt.
(Alternatively, if you don’t have the time or patience to do this research, contact Bubbles today to get your email communications translated. We can translate to and from over 280 languages, and when you work with us, you never run the risk of being misunderstood by the other party and losing his or her favour.)
2 – Build out your brand for that country
Think about if you – a UK resident – went to company’s website and it was in Mandarin… with no options to switch between languages.
Would that leave a good or bad impression on you?
It would make a bad impression, because you’d think that the company catered towards those who spoke Mandarin and no one else. Sure, you can “translate” the content with a browser add-on or extension – but it’s just not the same.
Before committing to anything, even if the other party doesn’t tell you, they are almost certainly checking up on your company and its presence in terms of their country specifically. Having perfectly-translated web content and other materials will instantly leave a good first impression.
(Again, if you need something translated, we can do it for you, quickly and easily. In addition to email communications, we can translate web content and any other business document.)
3 – Colours, numbers, and symbols
We’ll illustrate this point with a real example.
According to Business Inside, Adyen (a payment processor) is the hottest startup in the UK right now with a massive $1.5 billion valuation.
Take a look at the website’s colour scheme – what do you see?
You don’t actually have to click if you don’t want to – we’ll tell you that the colour scheme is white and green.
In western cultures, white signifies purity, innocence, wholeness and completion. In western cultures, green signifies balance and growth.
Not a bad combination for a payment processor.
On the other hand, if Adyen made its website to appeal to a Chinese audience, white and green might not be the best bet.
White still symbolises brightness, purity, and fulfilment, but it also has another meaning – death. At funerals in China, mourners aren’t dressed in all black – they’re dressed in all white.
And green still symbolises balance… but it’s also been associated with the PRC’s harmonisation efforts in the past few years.
Could Adyen get by with its current white and green colour scheme in China? Maybe. But there’s always a chance that they would mislead or offend their audience – implicitly and without ever really knowing why!
Never underestimate the importance of cultural viewpoints. Make sure that you’re using the right colours, numbers, and symbols when you represent your brand.
4 – Learn the language, even if it’s just a few words and phrases
If someone is trying to communicate with you in English but doesn’t speak perfect English, do you get mad or annoyed that he or she doesn’t fully understand your language?
Probably not. You’re probably understanding, and you probably try to help the person out – because, at least he or she is trying.
It’s quite another thing if the person isn’t even making an effort, though. Think about if the same person tried to communicate with you in a language you didn’t understand – you probably wouldn’t be as understanding, and you might even get frustrated with the back-and-forth. I’m sure you’ve been on holiday and felt the warmth from the locals at limited multilingual attempts or even the opposite. Things escalate quickly.
All you need to do is learn a few key words and phrases that are used in your everyday business practices. As long as you can make it seem like you’re trying, you’re fine – not many will expect you to learn a brand new language every time you want to win new business.
5 – Realise that countries have multiple languages
We’ll end with an easy one – when you’re communicating with a different country, please check whether or not the country is bilingual (or even multilingual) when it comes to official languages.
Even the seemingly most obvious ones will surprise you – for example, in Israel, Arabic is an official language right alongside Hebrew.
Do your homework on which language(s) the other party might speak before reaching out to them – it’s an easy win.
How to communicate internationally: recap
It’s harder to do than a single-language communication is, but it’s not impossible. Remember, we’re all human beings, often with similar likes, dislikes and expectations of business partners.
- Recognise cultural sensitivities (jokes, references, sayings, etc.) so you don’t offend someone by accident
- Make sure that your brand and communication strategy is built out for the country you’re communicating with
- Pay attention to the little things – colours, numbers, symbols, etc. – as those can make or break the first impression of your business to foreigners
- Learn a few key words and phrases for the other language, and try to learn more as the relationship progresses
- Don’t make the mistake of assuming that one country = one language