1. Learn something about the country, local customs, and cultural sensitivities to avoid making faux pas while abroad. Get a good grasp of why understanding cross-cultural differences is important in global business.

2. Always err on the side of formality and conservatism. Be low-key in dress, manners, and behaviour. Very few countries are casual in approach. The Australians are the most casual.

3. Don’t rush greetings and introductions in an effort to get down to business quickly. For most cultures it’s important to build a relationship first.

4. Expect your meetings and negotiations to take longer than anticipated. Build much more time into schedules – only a few cultures run by the clock. Other cultures focus more on people and life.

5. Don’t show impatience or irritation, especially in the Far East. Politeness and respect matter. In most cultures saving ‘Face’ and giving ‘Face’ matter enormously.

6. Express yourself carefully. Accents, idioms, and business jargon may be unfamiliar. Also, in Russia and Eastern Europe for example, business concepts and jargon are new – so really test that everyone has a shared meaning. Remember: there is no communication in a dialogue until each party understands the other.

7. Listen attentively to show that you care about what is being said. Repeat what you have heard in your own way to test you have understood correctly. This indicates a sincere interest in your colleagues, their concerns and issues.

8. Don’t put global colleagues on the spot or cause loss of face by being too direct or expecting a “yes” or “no” answer. Many cultures cannot explicitly express a ‘No’ because you will lose face is someone has to refuse you something. Also, be aware that facial expressions are read differently around the globe!

9. Avoid public criticism or comparison with your own country.

10. Familiarize yourself with customs surrounding gift-giving and business entertaining. Also get to understand the importance of business cards and some of the rituals surrounding how to use them

11. Build relationships and trust which are the keys to successful global partnerships. Only a few cultures focus on ‘the business deal’, most of the world focuses on business with those with whom they enjoy a relationship.

12. Communication is strongly affected by culture. You can improve your cross-cultural international communication by recognizing cultural differences and then overcoming your own bias


Dr Deborah Swallow is a leading authority on intercultural communication and international business practices. Follow the links for further information on her seminars, conference speaking or advice on cultural differences


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