Having a poor understanding of the influence of cross cultural differences in areas such as management, PR, advertising and negotiations can lead to cultural blunders with potentially damaging consequences.
It is crucial for today's business personnel to understand the impact of cross cultural differences on business, trade and internal company organisation. The success or failure of a company venture, merger or acquisition is essentially in the hands of people.
If these people are not cross culturally aware or cross culturally competent, then misunderstandings, offence and a break down in communication can occur.
The need for greater cross cultural awareness is heightened in our global economies.
Cross cultural differences in matters such as language, etiquette, non-verbal communication, norms and values can, do and will lead to cross cultural blunders.
Examples of Cultural Differences Going 'Wrong' in Business
To illustrate this we have provided a few examples of cross cultural blunders that could have been avoided with appropriate cross cultural awareness training:
* An American oil rig supervisor in Indonesia shouted at an employee to take a boat to shore. Since it is unacceptable to berate an Indonesian in public, a mob of outraged workers chased the supervisor with axes.
* Pepsodent tried to sell its toothpaste in Southeast Asia by emphasizing that it "whitens your teeth." They found out that the local natives chew betel nuts to blacken their teeth which they find attractive!
* A company advertised eyeglasses in Thailand by featuring a variety of cute animals wearing glasses. The ad was a poor choice since animals are considered to be a form of low life and no self respecting Thai would wear anything worn by animals.
* The soft drink Fresca was being promoted by a saleswoman in Mexico. She was surprised that her sales pitch was greeted with laughter, and later embarrassed when she learned that fresca is slang for "lesbian."
* When President George Bush went to Japan with Lee Iacocca and other American business magnates, and directly made explicit and direct demands on Japanese leaders, they violated Japanese etiquette. To the Japanese (who use high context language) it is considered rude and a sign of ignorance or desperation to lower oneself to make direct demands. Some analysts believe it severely damaged the negotiations and confirmed to the Japanese that Americans are barbarians.
* A soft drink was introduced into Arab countries with an attractive label that had stars on it--six-pointed stars. The Arabs interpreted this as pro-Israeli and refused to buy it. Another label was printed in ten languages, one of which was Hebrew--again the Arabs did not buy it.
* U.S. and British negotiators found themselves at a standstill when the American company proposed that they "table" particular key points. In the U.S. "Tabling a motion" means to not discuss it, while the same phrase in Great Britain means to "bring it to the table for discussion."
In conclusion, poor cross cultural awareness has many consequences, some serious others comical. It is imperative that in our increasingly global economy, that cross cultural awareness is seen a necessary investment to avoid such blunders as we have seen above.