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Cross-Cultural Communication Skills: Avoid these 3 things that annoy your western colleagues

Updated: Nov 22, 2018

Working with western colleagues can be an interesting experience as you learn about another culture. However, there are situations when your western colleague may annoy or upset you. There are also situations when you might annoy or anger your western colleague without knowing it. Here are three situations to avoid.

Situation 1: Office Relationships

Generally speaking, westerners keep their professional life and personal life separate. They believe that professional work relationships shouldn't become too personal.

Asians, on the other hand, like to form close personal relationships with the people they work with and might feel offended if their western colleague isn't willing to become close friends.

Asian colleagues should be careful when trying to become close to their western colleagues too quickly. First, develop a strong professionals working relationship and if you have a good working relationship, you might then become friends.

Situation 2: Punctuality

In western culture being punctual and arriving on time for meetings is important. When the meeting begins, everyone should 'get right down to business' and not waste time chatting or warming up. Being on time shows respect for your colleagues. Even a senior manager should be on time for meetings with employees to show respect.

Asians commonly arrive 5 minutes late and might spend 5 to 10 minutes warming up before 'getting down to business'.

Try to avoid being late for meetings with your western colleagues because they will consider it a lack of respect.

Situation 3: The Meaning of 'Yes'

Western people in business use 'yes' when they agree about something or when they agree to do something. Asians often use the word 'yes' to acknowledge that they are listening and perhaps that they understand what has been said. They don't necessarily mean that they agree or that they will do something.

This leads to problems when you say 'yes' and your western colleague expects you to do something. When you haven't done it, your western colleague will be annoyed.

So, it's important to be clear about the meaning of 'yes' in a business situation.

I've worked in Asia for over 25 years and these are three of the things that I've found annoying.


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