Intercultural business communication

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Many international transactions involve shipping and receiving goods. A number of special-purpose documents are required to handle these transactions:

price quotations, invoices, bills of lading, time drafts, letters of credit, correspondence with international freight forwarders, packing lists, shipping documents, and collection documents. Many of these documents are standard forms; you simply fill in the data as clearly and accurately as possible in the spaces provided. Samples are ordinarily available in a companys files if it frequently does business abroad. If not, you may obtain descriptions of the necessary documentation from the United States Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration, Washington, D.C., 20230. (For Canadian information, contact the Department of External Affairs, Trade Division, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A OG2.)

When preparing forms, pay particular attention to the method you use for stating weights and measures and money values. The preferred method is to use the other countrys system of measurement and its currency values for documenting the transaction; however, if your company uses U.S. or Canadian weights, measures, and dollars, you should follow that policy. Check any conversion calculations carefully.



Oral communication with people from other cultures is more difficult to handle than written communication, but it can also be more rewarding, from both a business and a personal standpoint. Some transactions simply cannot be handled without face-to-face contact.

When engaging in oral communication, be alert to the possibilities for misunderstanding. Recognize that you may be sending signals you are unaware of and that you may be misreading cues sent by the other person. To overcome language and cultural barriers, follow these suggestions:

Keep an open mind. Dont stereotype the other person or react with preconceived ideas. Regard the person as an individual first, not as a representative of another culture.

Be alert to the other persons customs. Expect him or her to have different values, beliefs, expectations, and mannerisms.

Try to be aware of unintentional meanings that may be read into your message. Clarify your true intent by repetition and examples.

Listen carefully and patiently. If you do not understand a comment, ask the person to repeat it.

Be aware that the other persons body language may mislead you. Gestures and expressions mean different things in different cultures. Rely more on words than on non-verbal communication to interpret the message.

Adapt your style to the other persons. If the other person appears to be direct and straightforward, follow suit. If not, adjust your behaviour to match.

At the end of a conversation, be sure that you and the other person both agree on what has been said and decided. Clarify what will happen next.

If appropriate, follow up by writing a letter or memo summarizing the conversation and thanking the person for meeting with you.

In short, take advantage of the other persons presence to make sure that your message is getting across and that you understand his or her message too.

Speeches are both harder and simpler to deal with than personal conversations. On the one hand, speeches dont provide much of an opportunity for exchanging feedback; on the other, you may either use a translator or prepare your remarks in advance and have someone who is familiar with the culture check them over. If you use a translator, however, be sure to use someone who is familiar not only with both languages but also with the terminology of your field of business. Experts recommend that the translator be given a copy of the speech at least a day in advance. Furthermore, a written translation given to members of the audience to accompany the English speech can help reduce communication barriers. The extra effort will be appreciated and will help you get your point across.