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Culture is key, whatever the language. If language skills are vital when doing business overseas then an awareness of business culture is crucial to success. Indeed, many companies see cultural awareness as a key skill for their employees, with 61% reporting dissatisfaction at the levels of international cultural awareness among school leavers (Education and Skills Survey 2011, CBI).

Have you ever heard the expression ‘That’s not the way we do things around here’? Every workplace has its own unique business culture; a multinational organisation will have a wide range of sub cultures. A little cultural information can go a long way to enhance your relationships with colleagues.

We often assume that because someone speaks English, they can understand everything we say but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will know all the ‘ins and outs’ of British culture and traditions. These factors influence our cultural communication.

Language is another potential minefield. Colloquial phrases such as: ‘Do you fancy a coffee?’; ‘It’s all gone pear shaped’; and ‘That winds me up.’ are quite commonly used but can be baffling for non-native speakers of English.

We all carry around cultural ‘baggage’ containing our assumptions about other people based on things such as: our own experiences; our friends’ and family’s experiences; and the media. As much as we try to keep an open mind, we tend to form instant impressions and often have expectations as to how people should behave.

Take a look at the following questions. The way you answer may be based on your business culture as much as (and probably more than) your individual personality:

Personal space

How close do you usually stand to a friend when you’re talking? Does it change when talking to a colleague? How close is too close?


When do you arrive at a meeting? Are you punctual? Do you try to arrive 15 minutes early or a few minutes early? Do you always let people know when you are running late?

Meeting and greeting

Do you shake hands, hug or kiss the cheek when you meet someone new? Do you greet colleagues in the same way?

Depending on your cultural backgrounds, you and your colleagues may have very different responses.

Cultural awareness is a core element of all our training programmes and we will work with you to determine the type of cultural information that you require to help your business succeed.