International E-tiquette

Avoid embarrassing faux pas in online global communications.
Magazine Contributor
2 min read

This story appears in the December 2005 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

In today's global business environment, even startup companies are likely to find themselves communicating with business contacts in other countries. And since e-mail is likely to be the primary mode of communication with your multicultural acquaintances, you should follow a few key guidelines to avoid committing an international etiquette faux pas.

When contacting an overseas colleague for the first time, follow standard e-mail guidelines, says Marjorie Brody, etiquette expert and founder of Brody Communications Ltd. in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. Professionalism would stipulate no big attachments, no emoticons, proper spelling and punctuation, and no ALL CAPS missives. Specific to your international contacts, consider any possible differences in spelling-the American recognize vs. the English recognise, for example. "Not that they don't appreciate and understand American English--they do," says Brody. "But even so, it's being respectful of [the other culture's] way of doing things."

Also, be mindful that other cultures are often more formal: While many Americans will immediately address a person with his or her first name in e-mails, international businesspeople often prefer formal titles. To avoid confusion and misunderstandings, take into consideration that country's currency and its symbol, as well as the correct format for times and dates--the U.S. uses the month/day/year format, whereas many other countries use day/month/year (2 December 2005, for example). Finally, avoid any type of humor or sarcasm in an international e-mail, as it often won't translate as funny, says Brody.

Moreover, if you're going to be working with a specific country, do your research about that culture's particular rules of decorum, as they vary widely from country to country. The bottom line: Be ready to learn a few new things. "People who are the most flexible and respectful of others are the ones who are going to do the best in these environments," says Brody. "You've got to get out of your American head. Do not come with a sense of arrogance, because nothing will turn people off more than that."

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