Growing your business in new countries can be exciting and scary, whether you are making inroads into new overseas networks or setting up your own base of operations.
A quick assessment of the lay of the land should tell you what you need to know about the local language and culture.
- Are any other official languages you need to be mindful of?
- Is English being widely spoken in this territory?
Answering those questions will help you determine if you have the language skills you need, and whether you might need to engage an interpreter (at least for the initial stages).
Thinking beyond language, cultural differences can also present challenges when you are trying to build successful business relationships in new territories. However, with a little forward planning, you can prepare your team for success in unfamiliar cultural situations.
Do your cross-cultural homework
Understanding a country’s culture is essential when you are getting ready to engage with overseas contacts. For example, do you know the best forms of greeting for the country of your new client? What about the most appropriate approach to gift-giving (and the most appropriate gifts to choose)?Are there any body language no-nos you should be aware of?
You may think that a firm handshake and clear eye contact is a universal greeting you can rely on, but actually bowing is sometimes more appropriate (e.g. in China and Japan).
Making eye contact can also be interpreted as rude in the Middle East and some Asian countries. Tread carefully to avoid getting off on the wrong foot when you first meet – make those first impressions count!
It makes sense to ensure you and your team get the appropriate cultural training to avoid any avoidable missteps. It could even positively contribute to the relationship from the beginning if you show cultural acumen they were not expecting you or your team to know.
Try out the language whenever you can (and evolve your skills fast!)
Learning a new language can be a challenge in itself, but using it for the first time in a business setting can be a nerve-racking experience like no other.
However, if you explain to your new clients that you are still learning, and you would like to practice your language skills as much as possible during your visit (and request that they forgive any errors!), they are likely to be appreciative of the effort on your part.
Remember your research on local corporate culture here. Some topics of conversation will help you to build rapport with your overseas colleagues, while others will be deemed inappropriate in some countries.
For example, most business people in the Netherlands tend to keep their personal and business lives separate, so it may be a good idea to stick to more general topics (such as asking about the local area) when you are working with the Dutch.
If you know the boundaries of suitable conversations topics (outside of the mechanics of your business dealings, which will naturally be a focal conversation point), you will be more confident when developing your language skills, and those positive first impressions will deepen into positive professional relationships.
Think before you speak
Sometimes the shoe will be on the other foot, and you may be speaking in English to potential clients where English is not their first language.
Maybe this is your first foray into a new territory, and so you have not yet invested in language training for your team.
If English can operate as your intermediary language, you may find that you are the ones seeking to be understood (and be the ones being understanding and forgiving of any errors on your potential clients’ part).
In this case, it is important to remember to speak clearly and carefully, and not to overcomplicate the conversation. You want to show respect to your potential colleagues, but you definitely do not want to talk down to them.
Avoid speaking loudly or overemphasising your words – they need simplicity and clarity from you. If you speak clearly and concisely you can help them to develop their English language skills through conversation.
You can also use visual aids (slides, photos, actions) to help reinforce your words, and provide examples and use repetition to help embed a deeper understanding of the conversation. If you are learning another language yourself, you will know well the frustrations of trying to understand and trying to be understood while you learn.
The best thing to do is be patient and show empathy to your future colleagues. This way, you can be sure to establish a solid foundation for your ongoing business relationship.
Expanding into new countries with new languages and unfamiliar corporate and local cultures can seem daunting at first, but with a little time and commitment, you can prepare your team for the challenge.
Contact us today to find out how we can help.