Culture and language in business

The more global your company becomes, the greater the influence of culture on your operations is. Culture itself is an extremely complex concept: it comprises language, traditions, religion, art and many other factors. And those factors influence how people think, shop or do business. That’s why culture also plays an exceptional role in translation and localization processes for global business.

Language is a big part of culture and it’s one of the primary factors that differentiate people. Although understanding a foreign language doesn’t always mean understanding the culture of the country or region where it is spoken. As mentioned above, culture is visible in more than just our words, so it also influences more than our language: shopping behaviors, decision-making process, and the principles we live by are exceedingly dependent on the culture we have been raised in.

That’s the reason why translation services for a global company must be something more than just lexical substitution. Multilingual communication must account for various factors to be effective, and it applies to all forms of communication: marketing, legal and technical materials, business meetings and the overall brand’s image. Translators and localization experts must be especially considerate of issues like the religion, sex and gender or the history of the region. A communication strategy that involves any of those elements should be really well-thought and considerate.

A thorough cultural research should be a prelude to creating a communication strategy. Full understanding of the culture of a given region should be an integral part of branding in this area. And that goes not only for the message you want to convey but also the channels and formats you’ll be using. Think about the people who will get your message — do they prefer written or graphic communication? Will an informative newsletter work better than a low-key Facebook profile? What are the most important values cherished by your customers? If it’s family — what kind of family — traditional or patchwork? The way you choose to communicate with your audience should reflect THEIR needs and principles, not your habits or measures.

If you fail to properly localize your materials (meaning translate lexically but also adapt culturally), you face being unable to gain customers’ trust, failure to establish long-term relationships with them and a lot of negative feedback in social media and the Internet (and that means more money spent on crisis management). That’s lower ROI in general.

That’s the reason why localization should be a fundamental part of strategizing and expansion planning. The job of localization experts is to capture a brand’s voice and adapt it to a new region – including its language and culture.

Cross-cultural negotiations

Customer relations are not the only part of your business that is influenced by culture. Culture affects also the way you do business, negotiate and work with people. At least it should.

Cross-cultural negotiations may take an unexpected turn if they’re not preceded by a thorough analysis of local customs, traditions and accepted behaviors. Not only should you choose your words carefully, but you should also pay particular attention to the way you approach negotiations culture-wise.

The first step is to acknowledge the differences between cultures and embrace them! You need to remember that your potential business partners not only speak a different language than you do but also have a different way of expressing themselves, different business ethics and sense of humor. Understanding the culture of your partners will help you build long-term relations and avoid unpleasant situations. The truth is that the more distant your cultures are, the wider the room of potential misunderstandings is.

Geert Hofstede is nowadays one of the most well-known and valued cross-cultural communication experts. His research is focused on culture and how it influences the behavior of its members. He divided nationalities based on a few self-created dimensions: power distance index, individualism vs. collectivism, uncertainty avoidance, masculinity vs. femininity, long-term vs. short-term orientation and indulgence vs. restraint. Based on those indices you can run comparative research of your culture and the culture of your potential partners, employees or clients.

Communication built on such a thorough and detailed analysis is going to be much more respected and valued by your business partners, employees, and clients. Our behaviors and principles we live by are shaped by the language we speak and the culture we have been raised in. Full understanding of cultural differences, embracing them and using them as a baseline for your business’ communication strategy will enrich your marketing, branding and cross-cultural negotiations.

Remember that there are few tools at your disposal to help you navigate your company in the cross-cultural environment:

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