We have recently been doing a great deal of work with our international clients, as well as several domestic clients with global partners. These strategic discussions reminded me of an article I wrote a while back and thought it was worth revisiting. This will be a two-part conversation.

Part one.

The need to communicate effectively across cultures in a global marketplace has never been more important; yet often companies hoping to capture international business overlook the basics, examining individual style differences.

While strategies may vary by industry, the basic foundation is teaching managers and employees at all levels to understand, appreciate, and manage the impact of behavior styles in the communication process. The basic objective is to help staff increase productivity and forge stronger cultural appreciation of each other. Many people blame the communication challenges on cultural differences and language barriers, yet the bottleneck is individual style differences. People have quite different cultures and opinions, and ignoring individual style differences can foil a company’s bid for global success.

Levels of Engagement

Companies need to help employees understand the “Levels of Engagement.” There are three levels. Pick up any book on business etiquette and you’ll learn about Level One — the general rules of appropriate relationship and communication skills. These rules apply to everyone — simple things like common courtesy, being on time for an appointment, and following up on the customer’s request. In addition, the customs of a particular culture need to be taken into consideration. In Spain, having business cards printed in English on one side and in Spanish on the other, you should present your card with the Spanish side facing the recipient. Unfamiliarity with cultural communication differences can lead to misinterpretation, misunderstanding, and even unintentional insult.

At Level Two, more discrete rules apply, specifically regional differentiations. What worked in the past might not work everywhere. For example, when doing business in Australia, there are regional differentiations between acceptable business interactions in Sydney as compared to Melbourne; likewise, there are differences between Shanghai and Hong Kong. In the United States we clearly differentiate between East Coast, Midwest, Southeast, Southwest, and West Coast, etc. It is critical for us to recognize these discreet and regional differences in other countries, as well.

Stay tuned for part two of the conversation where we will examine Level Three of the Levels of Engagement.