Merge's Blog

Cross-cultural communication tips for women

cross-cultural communication expert Tina VarugheseTina Varughese is not only an expert on workplace diversity and cross-cultural communication, she’s also my professional colleague and my friend. I am also thrilled that I will be sharing the platform with her later this year at the Customer Service Leadership Summit in Calgary.  Tina’s opening keynote at this prestigious event is titled “50 Shades of Beige – Successful sales and service to all cultures.”  Yeah, I know, the irreverent title should give you some inkling as to how thought-provoking and hilarious she is going to be.  Anyway, more about the Customer Service Leadership Summit at the end of this post.  To the business at hand, I asked Tina to guest on the blog today, and she brought a perspective that I don’t often cover on the blog – that of women in international business.  True, I often write about cross-cultural communication and differences, but Tina’s post today focuses on an even tighter subset – women and cross-cultural communication.

The Perception of Women in International Business

As a woman in business, you may need to be prepared for culture-specific expectations and practices in business situations. Understanding cross-cultural differences and having an understanding of cross-cultural communication will definitely further career goals.  Building close business relationships with people from other cultures might often be more difficult than it is for male colleagues.  There are ways to build these relationships and prove yourself as a trustworthy and respected professional that will often need to differ from how males accomplish this. 

  • Do your homework. If you are aware of the culture and background of your business colleagues, learn the status of women in these cultures so you know the roots of their behavior and attitudes towards women.
  • Anticipate problems: don’t necessarily expect to be treated as an equal. As a woman working against traditional attitudes and expectations you may have to work exceptionally hard at winning the same respect as male colleagues
  • Establish your rank and authority. It is essential to establish rank and authority early in the business relationship.  Men who are not used to dealing with a female colleague may look for any excuse to discount her.  Make sure your expertise is communicated and openly talk about your credentials.  Emphasize your role and importance within the company.  If you are leader of a business team make it clear you are in charge by ensuring your name is at the top of the team list.  Instruct other team members to defer to you when questions are directed to them but you are the person in charge. 
  • Always dress and act professionally. You do not want to give any non-verbal signs that can be mistaken as anything but professional business conduct and appearance.  Therefore as much as possible dress conservatively and in restrained shades.  Display confidence and assertiveness but be careful not to appear overly bold or aggressive. 
  • Be tolerant and understanding. Accept compliments about your appearance.  Try not to become defensive about your gender.
  • Maintain your stature as a woman. There is a natural urge to want to be accepted as “one of the boys”.  However in most cultures men and women do have clearly defined roles and it will take unnecessary energy and time to be thought of apart from your gender.  Act reserved and formal with male colleagues.   Join in business dinners that are professional in nature but you do not need to participate in any additional activities outside of the business relations. 

As a woman, it is possible to be just as effective and productive as men within international business relationships and situations.   If women establish their competence, experience and authority they will be taken seriously and treated professionally by executives from other cultures. 

Hear more from Tina at the Customer Service Leadership Summit

As I mentioned earlier, Tina will be one of the four headline keynoters at the Customer Service Leadership Summit in Calgary on November 15.  Also on the agenda will be yours truly and two other riveting speakers.  If the idea of attracting new customers and turning existing customers into raving fans seems like something you’d want to learn more about, then you absolutely need to be at this power-packed event.  I’ve been saying this for a while – this event will sell out.  Ticket sales have been ramping up in the last month, and I don’t want you to be disappointed, so make the decision to attend now!

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