Archive for September, 2010

Cross Cultural Articles, Cultural Clues, Cultural Tips: Gayle Cotton

Posted on September 2, 2010 by Comments are off

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Cultural Clues… Do’s & Taboos

The Importance of Cross-Cultural Business Communications

In today’s global business marketplace, the ability to communicate effectively multi-culturally cannot be underestimated. I found this out very quickly when I started teaching cross-cultural education in Geneva, Switzerland in the early nineties. My education was in Behavioral Science and Cultural Science however, I didn’t expect that there would be specific things about me that would have a negative impact. I had 3 strikes. I was American, so what could an American teach them about culture? I was female, and in the early nineties business women were much less common. I was blonde, and I quickly found out the dumb blonde jokes were global! I decided that I needed to adapt my image to fit their expectations. I adopted what I now call my ‘librarian look’, which consisted of the IBM classic colored suits with long skirts, my hair in a French twist and high heels since I’m short. For a group of senior bankers in Zurich, I even wore fake eyeglasses! I also changed my communication style to be more factual and direct and to the point. I smiled less, minimized my tonal modulations, and was less demonstrative in my body language, gestures and facial expressions.


Not being proactive and adapting to different cultural business expectations. It’s all too easy to get off on the wrong foot and become reactive.

Not understanding how formality, hierarchy and timing can affect business. These things have a tremendous impact on negotiations and decision-making.

Being perceived as too aggressive or even inpatient in our business approach. Business often takes longer with different cultures and countries, so plan accordingly.

Many cultures are more team focused or ‘we’ oriented. This can really impact our business style and marketing material. Avoid being egocentric or ‘I’ oriented.

A big Taboo is unintentionally offending someone with our body language. This can be very difficult to recover from. A basic guideline is to use ‘opened handed’ gestures. Don’t point with your index finger, use the OK sign or thumbs up and thumbs down.


Awareness is the 1st step! Observe how people communicate with you in person, on the phone and by email. Notice if they more formal and expressive or more direct and to the point.

Know your facts. Be aware of relevant historical data, economic issues, major industries, cities and geography to name a few. There is nothing more embarrassing than not knowing your geography!

Learn some cultural rapport skills about what is important. For example, when Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah visited President Bush at his Crawford ranch, they were photographed strolling hand in hand through the bluebonnets. This was an important sign of their friendship and trust. Sometimes, you need to go beyond your personal comfort zone!

Keep in mind that we are homogenizing as a global culture, so with all we learn we can’t ever take cultural tendencies for granted.

  1. Be proactive. Initially focus on creating trustful partnerships not on the business at hand.
  2. Use some cultural rapport. Adapt your marketing material and business approach as needed.
  3. Organize productive interactions that insure a ‘win-win’ for all parties.
  4. Develop strategies for relationships and business cycles based on appropriate levels of formality, business hierarchy and timing.
  5. Success leaves clues! Learn the Do’s & Taboos of the country and cultures you partner with. Be well prepared.

DENMARK will be the featured country

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Video Clips from ‘The 5 Keys to Successful Cross-Cultural Business Communications’

Posted on September 2, 2010 by Comments are off

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Dallas TX Sept. 1, 2010 – International Keynote Speaker, Gayle Cotton has her new Speaker Preview filmed live for SHELL OIL, available for viewing at the following links! Contact Gayle to speak for your company or organization.

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