Cultural Sensitivity in Business

Forget the saying ‘the world is getting smaller’ – it has gotten smaller. Advances in transport and communications technology combined with the development of a world economy have resulted in people from different nations, cultures, languages and backgrounds now communicating, meeting and doing business with one another more than ever.

There are some observers that claim this new found intimacy has lead to a greater understanding of ‘the other’ and as a result our cultural differences are in fact diminishing. However, in reality the opposite is true. As we come together our cultural differences become accentuated as we start to realise that the rest of the world is not reading from the same book. One area where this is now being felt is in business.

Very few businesses can escape the need to at some point in time deal with foreign colleagues, clients or customers. Business is international and if an organisation wants to develop and grow it needs to harness the potential an international stage offers. Twenty years ago British, European and American organisations doing business abroad had very little competition due to the lack of rival industrialised nations. Back then it was easy to do business ‘our way’. Today some of the world’s largest economies include Japan, China, Mexico, Brazil, India and Korea. As a result there has been a small shift from ‘our way’ to ‘let’s try and understand your way’. Why? Because western organisations are feeling the impact a lack of cultural sensitivity can and does have upon business performance.

Many organisations are now investing heavily in providing staff with language lessons in order to be able to crack foreign markets as well as providing cultural sensitivity training to address issues such as etiquette, protocol, communication styles and negotiation approaches. In a competitive world such businesses appreciate that greater cultural sensitivity will assist them in forging longer and more prosperous relationships. Yet progress is slow. Unfortunately a subconscious sense of cultural superiority still seems to reign; one that assumes the rest of the world does business like us and if they don’t then they should.

The world’s inhabitants however come from many faiths, cultures, world views and experiences which makes such an assumption futile. We are all different and as a result doing business across borders (whether political, religious, cultural or linguistic) requires cultural sensitivity, meaning a sense of empathy, flexibility and creativity informed by cultural knowledge. As with most things in life, business has learnt the hard way.

To illustrate how these lessons have and are still being learnt we will look at some examples where a lack of cultural sensitivity has let a company, individual or product down. For the sake of brevity these have been summed up in two simple categories: culture and language.


Culture comes in many shapes and sizes. It includes areas such as politics, history, faith, mentality, behaviour and lifestyle. The following examples demonstrate how a lack of cultural sensitivity led to failure.

* When colouring in 800,000 pixels on a map of India, Microsoft coloured eight of them a different shade of green to represent the disputed Kashmiri territory. The difference in greens meant Kashmir was shown as non-Indian, and the product was promptly banned in India. Microsoft was left to recall all 200,000 copies of the offending Windows 95 operating system software to try and heal the diplomatic wounds. It cost them millions.

*The fast food giant McDonald’s spent thousands on a new TV ad to target the Chinese consumer. The ad showed a Chinese man kneeling before a McDonald’s vendor and begging him to accept his expired discount coupon. The ad was pulled due to a lack of cultural sensitivity on McDonald’s behalf. The ad caused uproar over the fact that begging is considered a shameful act in Chinese culture.

* A nice example of how pictures don’t translate well across cultures is the time staff at the African port of Stevadores saw the ‘internationally recognised’ symbol for “fragile” (i.e. broken wine glass) and presumed it was a box of broken glass. Rather than waste space they threw all the boxes into the sea.

* When the US firm Gerber started selling baby food in Africa they used the same packaging as in the US, i.e. with a picture of a baby on the label. Sales flopped and they soon realised that in Africa companies typically place pictures of contents on their labels.

* Pepsodent tried to sell its toothpaste in South East 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.

* The film “Hollywood Buddha” showed a complete lack of cultural sensitivity by causing outrage and protest on the streets of Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Burma when the designer of the film’s poster decided to show the lead actor sitting on the Buddha’s head, an act of clear degradation against something holy.

* The concept of Big Brother was somehow taken to the Middle East. The show was pulled of the air after its first few episodes due to public protests and pressure from religious bodies stating the show’s mixed sex format was against Islamic principles.

* A golf ball manufacturing company packaged golf balls in packs of four for convenient purchase in Japan. Unfortunately, the number 4 is equivalent to the number 13 due it sounding like the word “death”. The company had to repackage the product.


The business world is littered with poor translations that have caused great embarrassment to their perpetrators due to their lack of cultural sensitivity. The following are some of the choicest examples.

* IKEA once tried to sell a workbench called FARTFULL – not a hugely popular product for obvious reasons.

* Both Clairol and the Irish alcoholic drink Irish Mist did not properly consider the German language when they launched their products there. Clairol’s hair-curling iron “Mist Stick” and the drink “Irish Mist” both flopped – why? ‘Mist’ translates in German as “manure”.

* The Japanese seem to have a particular flair for naming products. The country has given us gems such as “homo soap”, “coolpis”, “Germ bread” and “Shito Mix”.

* A new facial cream with the name “Joni” was proposed for marketing in India. They changed the name since the word translated in Hindi meant “female genitals.”

* Coors had its slogan, “Turn it loose,” translated into Spanish, where it became “Suffer from diarrhoea.”

All the examples cited above could easily have been avoided by conducting some basic research in respect to checking the concept, design, shape, colour, packaging, message or name in the target culture. In the majority of cases it is simply assumed that ‘if it is OK for us it is OK for them’. If businesses want to succeed internationally, cultural sensitivity must be at the heart of everything they do; from their personal interaction and relationships with clients to the products/services they develop.

By: Neil Payne

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Business Culture in China

Chinese business culture and etiquette
The Chinese business practice is vastly different from the Western method that most of us may be used to. Of course, with the Chinese economy opening up, China’s joining of WTO and the Olympics in 2008, many Chinese business practice are now beginning to align with more conventional methods.

However, China will always have their own unique business culture and etiquette, given their unique history and background.

“I was recently involved in a business meeting that went sour and threatened to scuttle a good deal. What happened was that the Chinese party recieving the American purchaser was late in reaching his hotel. The American was furious as he had a tight schedule and that they were late and threatened to withdraw his purchase.

The Chinese party was late because they were given a vague address of a lake-side hotel. You see, what happened was that the American gave his hotel as Lakeside hotel. Unfortunately, there were numerous hotels along the lake but the Chinese were too shy to enquire which lakeside hotel earlier because they were afraid the American would ‘lose face’ for having given a vague address. Instead, they spent the morning hopping from one lakeside hotel to another looking for this American gentleman.”

A simple cultural difference threatened to scuttle a perfectly good working relationship. To avoid similar cultural disasters, here are some tips on how you can conduct a more successful business in China.

The initial approach

Chinese business are mostly referrals; essentially a business relationship is struck based on another business associate recommendation. The best prices and deals often comes from a strong recommendation.

However, it is common today for cold calls and direct contacts, given the availability of the internet and the competitive nature of Chinese businesses. You may source from the internet, trade fairs, catalogues and brochures, advertisements and approach the Chinese companies directly through a call or email.

Alternatively, if you are seeking to invest in a factory in China, you can approach a investment committee or a business advisory directly. They will be able to advise you on your best location based on your industry, raw material and manpower needs. Please contact us directly if you have such a need and we’ll be glad to advise accordingly.


Chinese business relationship inevitably becomes a social relationship after a while. Unlike Western business relationship which remains professional and perhaps, aloof, even after a long time, Chinese business relationship becomes a social one.

The more you share your personal life, including family, hobbies, political views, aspirations, the closer you are in your business relationship. Sometimes, a lot of time is spent discussing matters outside of business, but then a lot of time, the other party is also making up his mind about your deal based on how much he sees your personal relationship with him.


Seniority is very important to the Chinese especially if you are dealing with a State owned or government body. Instead of addressing the other party as Mr or Mrs so and so, it is always appropriate to address the other party by his designation ie Chairman So and So, Director So and So or Manager So and So.

When giving out namecards or brochures, make sure you start with the most senior person before moving down the line. When giving out a namecard or recieving one, ensure that you are stretching out with both hands with the card. Remember to face the card you are giving out in a manner such that the recieving party gets it facing him correctly.

Giving Face

Giving face (aka giving due respect) is a very important concept in China. You must give the appropriate respect according to rank and seniority. For example, if you are buying gifts for an initial contact, make sure you buy better gifts for the senior managers instead of buying similar gifts across the board.

Similarly, sitting positions in a meeting room or a dining table is accorded accordingly to rank, importance and seniority. It is good to seek advice before embarking on your first meeting with Chinese business contacts to avoid making the wrong move.

Gifts and Presents

Unlike earlier days when China was very poor, gifts, especially of Western origin was especially appreciated. Today, China produces and imports almost anything imaginable and gifts are no longer a novelty.

However, gifts are always appreciated and especially in the smaller cities or towns, will continue to play an important part in your business relationship. Do note that if you are indeed giving gifts, make sure the senior people get a better gift or at least gifts perceived to have a higher value than their junior staff.

Similarly, expect to recieve gifts from the Chinese, especially Chinese art products. It is polite not to refuse, especially if it is not of too high a monetary value.


There is no business talk in China without at least one trip to a restaurant. Sometimes, a trip is made to the restaurant even before any business discussion take place! Inevitably, the restaurant will always be a grand one and you are likely to be hosted in a private room.

There is an elaborate seating arrangement for a Chinese business meal. There are fixed seating positions for the host and the guest and then they are seated again according to seniority. This is a very important aspect of a formal dinner and it is important that you follow the rules accordingly. However, it seems that the Northern Chinese are very particular to this formal seating arrangement while the Southern Chinese has loosen the formalities somewhat.

You may like to find out more this interesting China Book.

Drinking with the Chinese

The Chinese are big drinkers especially in Northern and Western China. It does not matter if it is lunch or dinner; as long as a meal is being hosted, there will be alcohol.

Chinese wine is the favourite, followed by red wine and beer. Chinese wine is more like fuel than liquor, having a alcohol concentration as high as 60%! No matter how good a drinker you may think of yourself, never, ever challenge a Chinese into a drinking contest. They will win, hands down!

It is often seen as rude not to drink with the Chinese in a formal dinner. To maintain your sanity, either claim to be a non alcoholic or plead medical grounds as an excuse. This will let you off the hook with little or minimal drinks. Better yet, bring a partner who can drink on your behalf!

After Dinner Entertainment

Formal business dinner normally drags for quite sometime as there will be much social talk, some karoake, and drinking contests. Most of the time, everyone is too drunk to indulge in further entertainment after a dinner. In addition, if you are just new to this partnership, you are unlikely to be invited to further after dinner entertainment.

However, once you are familiar with them, you may be invited to a Karaoke, or a Night Club, or a Suana. Do note that if they are the host for the night, all bills will be picked up by them for the night, including all entertainment. It is impolite to fight for the bill or worst, split the bills.

Similarly, if you are the host for the night, you are expected to pick up all bills for the night.

Controversial Issues

There are some taboo areas in social conversations with the Chinese. Try to avoid these conversational topics as much as possible. I have seen many nasty arguements as a result of these topics:

1. You must not mention that Taiwan is an independent state or a country.

2. You must NEVER praise the Japanese or be seen to be good buddies with them

3. You can condemn Mao Tse Tung but avoid critising Deng Hsiao Ping

4. You must not praise Shanghai in front of natives of Beijing and similarly vice versa

Other than that, you are pretty safe to converse with the Chinese anything under the sun!

By: Ken Cheong

About the Author:

Ken Cheong worked, lived and travelled in China for the last 7 years. You may distribute this article as long as you refer to it’s source at: and

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Enhance Your Business Communication Skills

(Say What You Mean and Get What You Want!)

Great business communication skills requires learning to say exactly what you mean and saying it in a way to get a desired outcome that is beneficial for both the business contact and your home based business. Many times we send cross signals in our communications because we ourselves are not completely sure how to convey our thoughts properly. We know what we want to say but are unable to get the correct wording in order to get the your point across.

Enhancing our business communication skills has numerous advantages in all aspects of our home based business from negotiations to routine business conversations. Your bottom line will increase more by getting the desired outcome that you want. Whether it is better pricing from a manufacturer or handling a disgruntled customer you will notice that the results will be more favorable for your home based business.

* Tips for Effective Communication:

* Have a Main Objective

* Be Prepared for Objections

* Consider the Benefits for All Parties

* Emphasize the other Party’s Benefits

* Keep if Friendly

* Be Prepared to Walk Away

Know Your Main Objective

What is the ultimate result you would like to achieve from the conversation, negotiation or advertising? What I have found to be very helpful is to get as many facts as possible. Information gathering is essential for creating your main objective as well as gaining better business communication skills. Once you have the main objective in mind, create a mental picture of it or write it down so that you can stay focused.

If you have a disgruntled customer, find out exactly what the problem is. Keep asking questions until you know for sure that you completely understand the situation. Then you can figure out what solutions would work best for the customer and for your home based business.

When you know what your objective is for all situations you will have a clear direction to follow in order to achieve your ultimate goal. The goal may be to create a satisfied customer expectations of repeat sales, negotiating a lower product price with a manufacturer, or creating an advertising campaign. As you can see effective business communication skills will increase your home based business bottom line.

Prepare for Objections

Whether it is customer service or negotiating with a manufacturer etc., you will need to expect objections. When you are prepared for them even if they never arise, it will open your mind to all the aspects of the situation and will give you a clearer perspective. When you can see all the sides of a situation, you will make wiser decisions and be able to point out the advantages for the other party.

What are the Benefits for All Parties?

Knowing what the benefits are for all parties concerned will help you explain them more effectively. In advertising you would list the benefits of your product or service in the advertisement. In customer service you would list the benefits of the solution to your customer, bearing in mind what would be the best outcome for both parties.

Emphasize the Benefits

Armed with a list of benefits, you will be able to explain the best benefits and advantages for the other party. With all the information on the table your business contact will be able to see the advantages of the subject matter and how they can benefit from your proposal. You will then be able to conclude the conversation easily since you have achieved your main objective with all parties satisfied.

Keep if Friendly

There will be times when no matter how good your business communication skills are, the other party just does not recognize the possibilities or want to work with you. That is fine, there will be customers who you cannot satisfy, negotiations that cannot be made and business contacts that will not be able to see your point of view.

If you keep it friendly you will increase the chances that they will listen to you in the future. This will leave the option of further contact open, whether it is a call, coming back to the negotiating table or for other business opportunities.

Be Prepared to Walk Away

Great business communication skills also entail knowing and realizing that situations will arise that the other party may not be receptive to any part of your main objective. In those rare instances it is better to end the conversation politely and move on. Sometimes the other party may be having a bad day or is distracted and what ever you say will fall on deaf ears. This happens to all of us. Realizing and recognizing that the other parties’ business communication skills are off that day will help you to end the conversation quickly and renew it on anther day when it is more appropriate.

Effective communication will help you in your home based business by creating an atmosphere of understanding and cooperation. Another aspect of business communication skills includes learning to listen better. In my article; What did You Say? I discuss ways to become a better listener.

Tips for effective communication are a quick guideline which you can follow to stay on course in all your business dealings. Each day there will be numerous opportunities to use effective communication skills. Your home based business depends on your business communication skills for growth, development and advancement in your chosen field.

By: Paul Kopp

About the Author:

Paul Kopp is the Founder and CEO of Kopp Enterprises, Inc. Paul has been a Home Based Business owner for over 7 years. Currently he operates 2 online businesses and also is involved in numerous non internet related businesses. Paul created to give quality information and resources to start and run a home based business smoothly and profitably. He covers all the topics from A-Z for home based businesses. This article and others can be found at his

Buy a Business With Owner Financing

Does the lousy job market have you looking for options? Have you always wanted to be your own boss? Now may be the perfect time to jump into small business ownership.

Did the thought of owning your own business just make you smile? Most people dream of owning a business but they allow negativity to get in the way. They chalk it up to a silly notion or a pipe dream. They try to rationalize it by saying they could never get the money to buy a business. That couldn’t be further from the truth because the majority of small business sales involve seller financing.

Why would a business owner finance the sale? Why not? If the business is solid and producing a profit then who knows better than the seller that the business is a solid investment. The current owner can see the value in holding the note.

Getting an all cash offer may sound great but then the seller needs to find someplace safe to invest the money. Until recently that wasn’t very difficult but now there are bank failures and the stock market is going up and down like a yo-yo. Keeping their money parked in a solid investment like a business note with a decent interest rate is quite attractive.

Selling for all cash is what so many people think a business owner wants but that isn’t always the case. If you are in the market to buy a business then look for owner financing as a way to realize your dream of being your own boss.

By: Rhonda Holland

About the Author:

Don’t let the credit crunch stop you from buying or selling a business. Business owner financing can help the seller as well as the buyer and the note can be sold for cash to a business note buyer either at closing or after it has been seasoned.

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Business Money, Mentors and Motivation

If you are looking for money, mentors or motivation about growing your business this may be the most important article you will read this year. If your desire involves looking for a cash injection you had better make sure that your business is a great business idea to start with.

Generally investors won’t give you money unless this ingredient is at the fore. Investors come in different packages. There are “Business Angels” and “Venture Capitalists”. The best way to attract them is when you have a successful business or idea. Whether it is a start up or well established business is irrelevant most of the time.

Investors only want to know that if they invest in your business they will get a great return.

Business Angel

Angels are business people or investors with business experience who specialise in helping and advising startup business for a price. They are smart people experienced in what will work in business and will not give out money unless they think they are on a winner. Investments range from a once off payment of $10,000 up to $100,000.

Venture Capitalists

Venture Capitalists on the other hand are larger investors. They look at a minimum of $2 million over a period of time with injections of $200,000 to sustain the growth of the business. They don t often invest in start up businesses unless they have a substantial control in the financial situation and can see a substantial return on their investment within 2 years.

The minimum you will require to attract either of the investors mentioned is a detailed business plan outlining the reasons why the business is and will continue to be a success. Don’t go to them if you haven’t thought it out properly.

Tips to consider

Starting out in business is very risky. With over 75% of startup businesses failing in the first 3 years please consider these tips before you start:

· Be in a business you are passionate about

· Be experienced and know all about the business you want to be in

· Be prepared to work hard and long for the first 3 years

· Only involve people you trust who can do the tasks you direct them to do

· Be prepared to have sleepless nights

· Have a good mentor who is accessible

· Be prepared to take risks

By: Dan Cavalli

About the Author:

About the authorDan Cavalli is an entrepreneur and expert on small-business success. He teaches essential marketing tactics and sales techniques. Get your copy of Dan’s free subscription for Business and Personal Development Tips at or for your free 5 day mini-course on “How to Get More Sales in 5 Days or Less” go to

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Business is About Making Cash