Cultural Differences in Business

Understanding cultural differences can make a world of difference in your business

Cultural differences can make communicating a challenge. Today, email is a large part of business communication. If you work with people internationally, time zones differ and it is often very difficult to find time during the work day to connect. Communication is evolving like never before, and email is becoming a top way to connect with people all over the world. With this change in communication across cultures and borders comes barriers to communication as well.

Expression of thought is inherently different from culture to culture, and this can affect the efficiency of processes and the development of a business. Although there are many components to cultural understanding and communication, the first very important one is cultural context. Knowing how different cultures are classified based on the way they behave can help you communicate through email or in person clearly and effectively to avoid misunderstandings.

Cultural Context

Low context cultures are typically very direct and to the point. These cultures focus on the task itself, include necessary information, and leave out more unnecessary information than high context cultures. High context cultures require very in-depth communication beyond just the facts, with a larger amount of information supporting the topic. Pleasantries are often included and expected for high context communication. The difference between these two is based on a variety of factors, such as social structure and emphasis on relationships vs. task goals in a culture.

So, which countries are considered high context, and which are considered low context? Generally, countries with more western culture value low context communication, such as England, Switzerland, Germany, U.S.A. and Canada. Countries with high context communication include Japan, many Arabic Countries, China, Latin America, and France.


If approached correctly, emotion is another of the cultural differences relevant to many business scenarios that can assist intercultural communication. Culture is typically considered affective or neutral. In affective cultures, people express themselves more openly and are not averse to showing their true emotions. In neutral cultures, people do not express themselves as openly and tend to hide certain emotions because it is not proper to show them. These cultures tend to value objective decision-making, and may not react to situations the way that affective cultures would expect them to.

Neutral countries include Japan, UK, and Indonesia. More affective countries are Italy, France, US, and Singapore. The emotional differences between these countries has the potential to cause confusion when people are interacting with members of other cultures. Keeping this information in mind helps. When you know this, affective cultures are not seen as weak and neutral cultures are not viewed as unfriendly.


In regards to time, cultural differences vary in practices. Sequential and Synchronic cultures see time extremely differently. Sequential cultures view time as a very cut and dry concept. They see time as a valuable resource, and meetings are considered more of a commitment than they are to Synchronic cultures. Synchronic cultures view time as a changeable guideline that comes second to the tasks of the day. It may be rude to cancel a meeting last second in sequential business cultures, yet it is widely accepted in Synchronic cultures.

Staying flexible and keeping an open mind when working with people of differing cultures, whether through email or face-to-face interactions, is important. Be aware of the main differences in the way people think and act from culture to culture. Patience is valuable as well. With a little awareness, communication across cultures can be easier for everyone, and businesses can truly gain an advantage from these interactions.

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