International Business – Part 2

Written by on July 23, 2012 in Career - No comments | Print this page

International Business - Part 2

If only getting a straight “yes” or “no” was always this easy.

In Part 1 of the series on International Business, we discussed the easy part of doing business abroad – what to wear. Now, it’s time to tackle the harder stuff, like communication with your international colleagues and clients.

Communicating with your foreign counterparts and customers means more than making sure everyone is speaking the same language. Even if everyone is speaking English, you may not be communicating properly due to cultural differences and reasoning.

Yes Means What?

To Americans, yes and no are very clear cut concepts. Yes means yes and no means no. If you’re not sure about something, you can say something like maybe or “we’ll see.” In other parts of the world, this isn’t always true.

In East Asia, saying no is kind of rude. So, a hard no is avoided at all costs. Instead, people will say something like “It is better if….” instead of just coming out and saying no. Last year, I was on an Asiana Airlines flight to the US. At the beginning of my flight, I had trouble getting my video display to work so, I called the flight attendant. When the attendant came over, I asked her if the movies were available on demand. Her response was “It would be easier if you scrolled through the channels until you find a movie that is starting.” I then rephrased my question and got an equally rephrased answer. Now, the flight attendant spoke excellent English so, I’m sure she understood my question. She simply was not going to tell me “No, the movies are not available on demand.”

Questions, Questions, Questions

Asking questions is another tricky concept. Have you ever dealt with a second language English learner that phrased their questions in a way that confused English speakers?  I have. One of my college professors was Russian and he would add “no” to the end of every question. I never really knew how to answer him when he asked questions like “This is true, no?” I would just state my answer in a very clear sentence to make sure I answered clearly. I recommend you also answer in a full sentence, not just yes or no, to make sure your answer is well understood.

If you’re not sure what you’re being asked, make sure that you clarify the question. You don’t want to commit to something because you misunderstood the question.

When you’re negotiating, be on the lookout for cultural differences such as these. Of course, not every culture has an aversion to the word no or a different way of asking questions but, there may be other differences that seem small but, add up to a lot of confusion.

How do you deal with cultural differences when abroad?


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About the Author

Jen Small

Jen is a writer who is originally from South Florida. A former recruiter for a Fortune 500 company, she has also worked in several different industries - real estate, insurance, construction, and education. Jen has now taken this experience to help others as a resume writer and designer. She currently lives and works in South Korea. View all posts with career advice.