Coincidentally lately I’ve liaised with business people from a veritable parade of nations – Japan, Italy, Saudi Arabia, India and France. The projects varied but most fascinating for me was the difference in cultural understanding. The importance of subtleties like being on time, politeness, who took the notes, who sat first and where, how quickly we spoke and the language and volume we used differed enormously. Without prior warning about expectations, semantics and deportment, it proved a bit of a minefield at times! Just one key common factor stands out, in hindsight – communication was much easier when all parties practised the golden rule of “seek first to understand”.
Some misunderstandings were based on nuances, a facial expression, or a failed joke. At one point I realised how quickly I spoke and strode with the Italian was lost entirely on the Frenchman. In fact, I almost did lose him in a crowd – proof that a person who drinks double espressos all day does not necessarily speed up.
Australians have a shared understanding about personal space, language use and jocularity and adjusting our style is sometimes necessary, or at least courteous. It’s important not to presume another person’s behaviour is intentionally confronting or careless, wherever they’re from. I found I got best results from asking questions, querying meaning and reflecting back comments to check I understood, especially when the body language signals changed – several times I’d entirely misread the drift. I also got unashamedly fast at Google Translate and discovered it too gets mangled. C’est la vie!