Cultural Faux Pas
Can you figure out what is wrong?
- You are on a conference call with your outsourcing team located in Bangalore, India, and you have just asked "who is responsible" for missing the deadline?" There is silence on the other end, and you ask again, this time in a louder voice.
- You've flown across the Pacific for an important sales meeting with Japanese executives. During the discussions, you quote a price. Silence follows. When your Japanese counterparts don't respond, you quickly break the silence to reduce the price.
- On a business trip to Hamburg, Germany, you're introduced to your German colleagues for the first time. You extend your hand to them, and say, "Just call me Jack."
- While lunching with a potential client in France you immediately start talking about sales projections for the coming year.
Most U.S. businesspeople wouldn't be offended by any of these actions. Yet
the foreigners in these examples would view each incident as a faux pas.
- To single out anyone for blame, especially in front of others, is not the way to build team morale or critical relationships with Indians.
- By taking time to consider a proposal, Japanese executives believe they're demonstrating sincerity.
Unlike many Americans, they also feel comfortable with silence.
- Germans prefer formality. To immediately ask German executives to call you by your first name is considered rude.
- The French like to concentrate on the eating experience, reserving business discussion until after dessert, or "contra le poire and le fromage." (Between the pear and the cheese.)
Resources for Learning:
- See the Tips for Global Business Travelers below
- For country specific do's and don'ts, order Sondra Sen's International Business Interacts by country.
Tips for Global Business Travelers
By Sondra Sen
1. Learn something about the country, local customs, and cultural
sensitivities to avoid making faux pas while abroad.
2. Err on the side of formality. Be low-key in dress, manners and
3. Don't rush greetings and introductions in an effort to get down
to business quickly.
4. Expect your meetings and negotiations to be longer than
anticipated. Build more time into schedules.
5. Don't show impatience or irritation. Politeness and respect
6. Express yourself carefully. Accents, idioms and business jargon
may be unfamiliar.
7. Listen attentively to show that you care about what is being
8. Indicate a sincere interest in your colleagues, their concerns
and issues, to build win-win solutions.
9. Don't put global colleagues on the spot or cause loss of face by
being too direct or expecting a "yes" or "no" answer.
10. Avoid public criticism or comparison with your own country.
11. Familiarize yourself with customs surrounding gift-giving and
12. Build relationships and trust which is the key to successful
Printed in Teambuilding That Gets Results, Harriet Diamond, Illinois:
Sourcebooks, Inc. 2007. Reprinted on Ten3 Business e-Coach,