Communication is not just an important part of business; communication is business. At Jana, a large number of our customers are headquartered in other markets, ranging from Brazil to Malaysia. Similar to our customers, myself and the Account Management team must analyze the best ways to access, appeal, and communicate in foreign markets for business purposes.
Due to time-zone differences and occasional language barriers, much of our business communication is done over email. As a result, it's important to understand the various cultural nuances and communication styles that can affect your ability to do business effectively over email.
Here are three ways that cultural differences affect email communication:
1. Cultural context matters
Cultures differ by their style of communication. One of most well known ways of differentiating cultural communication styles was created by Edward T. Hall, who introduced the concepts of low-context and high-context cultures.
In cultures with high-context communication, a message cannot be understood without a great deal of background information. Low-context communication cultures spells out more of the information explicitly in the message. While business communications in low-context cultures are not short of pleasantries, they are not absolutely necessary in order to do business. High-context countries place a high value in both the quality and quantity of details and pleasantries that can be included in emails. Traditionally, cultures with western European origins are low-context cultures, while the rest of the world trends towards high-context cultures. Emails with customers from these high-context countries, such as Japan, India, or China should include any and all details in the message.
Cultures also differ in the way emotions are incorporated into business. Cultures are considered either affective or neutral. Affective cultures are open to displaying emotion, while neutral cultures monitor how much emotion they show. Countries like the United States, Italy, France, and Singapore are more affective, while countries like Japan, Indonesia, and the United Kingdom are more neutral. Although emotions might not be particularly evident over business email, it is important not to mistake affective cultures as being weak or over-emotive, or neutral cultures as being cold.
Learning about these cultural nuances caused me to think back to comments from customers of different cultures about campaign performance. Perhaps I expected more verbal excitement from customers with high-performing campaigns, but their lack of outward excitement was actually how a neutral culture normally would respond and not a reflection on the success of the campaign.
2. Timing: It’s not just about time-zone differences
Time matters when it comes to emailing across borders. While time-zone differences may be the most obvious, (World Time Buddy is actually a great tool for converting time-zones) it may not affect your day-to-day as much as how different cultures perceive time. Cultures are either sequential or synchronic. Sequential cultures view time as a limited resource, sequential, and precise. Synchronic cultures view time as a guideline, a moldable concept, and secondary to the task at hand. In sequential business cultures, meetings occur at a specific time and you are either late or on time. In synchronic business cultures, meetings are simply an intention to meet.
We’ve had calls with customers in Malaysia or Singapore at 7 a.m. EST, where they don’t reach out for half an hour before they join the meeting or cancel. While this is uncommon in sequential cultures, it is a perfectly normal practice in synchronic cultures. Timing matters, so it’s important to stay on top of customer requests and messages, and remain flexible when necessary.
3. Adjust your email content for the audience
Although the language of business is English in many countries, nuances that are understood by native speakers may be miscommunicated when emailing with those who speak English as a second language. Because of this, it’s essential that every email is clear and concise, but also contains the necessary level of detail. In the U.S., we have a tendency to write lengthy emails, but in other countries, shorter is better in order to avoid miscommunications.
I have found that the best way to deliver an email with a lot of information is by using bullet points. This works particularly well with lists of questions or materials you need answered from the customer. It is also important to avoid using idioms and slang—such as “get the ball rolling” or “get down to work”—in an effort to make the email easily translatable across languages.
Jana connects advertisers with mobile app users in emerging markets. Visit our website to learn how our self service platform or managed service can help you reach your goals.