Cultural Differences in Email Communication
When trying to build a relationship or strengthen an existing one through business emails, cultural differences can get in the way by causing miscommunication and resentment.
The only way to prevent this from happening is to be aware of this possibility, and modify emails to reflect the relevant cultural differences. This article will help professionals identify cultural differences that may affect their business relationships and prevent misunderstandings by changing their emails.
Acknowledging Cultural Differences
Did you know that statistically, emails are more likely to be sent and received between two culturally and economically similar countries? These findings came to light due to a collaborative study called “The Mesh of Civilizations and International Email Flows” conducted by researchers from Cornell, Stanford, Qatar’s Computational Research Institute, and Yahoo! These findings show that cultural differences play a major role in how people communicate.
When the differences are big, you have to work harder to create and maintain your business relationships. But this doesn’t mean that people from similar cultures with comparable values don’t have cultural differences to cope with.
In fact, they do, which is why it is so important for all professionals to learn how to modify their language based on the global English mindset and change their writing style in a way that their emails make sense despite various cultural differences.
Change Your Writing to Conform to Global English Norms
The most important thing you need to do to modify your email to cope with cultural differences is to deculturalize it. In other words, you need to write it in a way that it doesn’t contain country, religion, or culture-specific references. This means studying and neutralizing all verbs, phrases, idioms, slang, and references that you would normally use in your day-to-day life.
In place of this type of English, you’ll have to make sure that your language is pragmatic, purposeful, and to-the-point because the global English mindset favors practicality and neutrality over specialized or highly country-specific terms.
Here are some examples of words with different meanings between two cultures that are not considered to be hugely different – the US and the UK.
- Coach: It’s a sports teacher in the US but a bus in the UK.
- Trainer: It means someone who trains in the US but a sports shoe in the UK.
- Lift and elevator: In the UK, it’s what you use to climb floors in a building while the Americans use the word “elevator”.
Cultural Differences in Formatting Emails
While language-specific differences are more diverse across cultures, there are formatting-based differences too. A good example of this is date formats. Here’s how the meaning of 12/10/2022 changes from the US to the rest of the world.
- US: December 10th, 2022
- Rest of the world: October 12th, 2022
The difference is huge and can result in considerable misunderstandings. This is why it needs to be taken into account when you’re writing dates in your email.
Formatting is also a concern when writing time since the recipient of your email may be in a different time zone. The global business standard is to either use the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) or the Universal Coordinated Time (UCT) when scheduling meetings and discussing deadlines.
When it comes to time, you’ll also have to pay attention to how cultures affect working hours. Here are two examples of how this happens.
- France: The French citizens have the Right to Disconnect which allows them to completely disconnect from work beyond working hours. It’s a cultural trait that is enforced through law. As a result, many French professionals don’t entertain business contacts after 6:00 PM and on off days.
- Islamic Nations: In Islam, Friday is considered to be a holy day. As a result, in some Islamic nations like the UAE and Pakistan, Fridays and Saturdays are considered to be the weekend while Sunday is seen as a working day.
Pay Attention to Cultural Differences
What is seen as the proper business communication etiquette also varies from one nation to another. In fact, the variation is so diverse and widespread that it is difficult to qualify it in any one category.
The closest anyone has ever come to understanding, describing, and categorizing cultural differences in business communication is Edward T Hall. In 1976, Hall categorized cultures into two categories which were low context cultures and high context cultures. Hall differentiated between cultures on the basis of how direct and to the point their respective professionals expected business communication to be.
Professionals in low-context cultures tend to be very precise and direct in their business communication which means that they don’t exchange pleasantries and get straight down to business. Professionals from high context cultures, on the other hand, expect pleasantries in business communication, and if the email is too direct then they find it rude and offensive.
Examples Low Context Cultures vs High Context Cultures
Here are a couple of examples of how emails from low-context cultures can differ from high-context cultures.
Low Context Culture:
How are you? I wanted to inquire about the deadline for the next consignment as we’re trying to streamline allocations here. Could you let me know when the supplies are dispatched also?
Thanks and regards,
High Context Culture:
How are you? I read about the heatwave in your city. I hope the family and kids are all doing fine, especially with the holiday season coming up. Please convey my wishes.
I’m emailing because I wanted to enquire about the ETA on the next consignment as we’re trying to streamline allocations here. Could you let me know when the supplies are dispatched also as that would help me delegate tasks and boost production here?
Thanks and regards,
Some examples of low-context cultures are the US, the UK, and Germany while India, China, Japan, Spain, and the Middle East can be seen as high-context cultures.
Identifying which type of cultures your recipients belong to is important because it will allow you to tailor your email to suit their expectations.
Cultural differences between two professionals can significantly affect their business relationship. This is why it is the responsibility of every professional to modify their email to reflect the cultural differences they’re dealing with. This means conforming to the global English norms, sticking to internationally accepted formatting standards, and paying attention to other cultural differences.
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