Activity 2. Learning to cope with corporate culture clashes

Read the article from The Irish Independent about The Centre for International Briefing, which runs training courses for business people travelling to other countries.


Complete the paragraphs using the sentences below.

a. 'In a country like Japan, the notion of personal space which we value so much simply has no meaning,' he says.

b. In Asian cultures most of it takes place behind the scenes.

c. The difference between understanding a culture and ignoring its conventions can be the measure of success or failure abroad.

d. The Centre for International Briefing has spent 40 years preparing the wary traveller for such pitfalls.

e. John Doherty, International Marketing Director with the Irish Industrial Development Authority, explains how you can easily talk yourself into trouble at a business meeting in Japan:

f. Greetings, gestures and terms of address are all potential hazards abroad.


Learning to cope with corporate culture clashes

The dos and don'ts of travelling abroad are a potential minefield for the unprepared traveller. If you spit in some countries, you could end up in prison. In others, spitting is a competitive sport.

The Centre for International Briefing has spent 40 years preparing the wary traveller for such pitfalls. Though it may sound like a covert operation for aspiring secret agents, what the Centre does is prepare travellers for encounters with new social and business customs worldwide. To date, over 50,000 people have passed through its headquarters at Farnham Castle in Surrey. 'There are two broad tracks to our training programme,' explains Jeff Toms, Marketing Director. 'One covers business needs, the other social etiquette. For example, business travellers need to know how decision-making works.'

1_________ In China, it may be necessary to have government involved in any decisions taken. And in India, people are sometimes late for a scheduled appointment.

2_________ While we are familiar with the short firm handshake in this part of the world, in the Middle East the hand is held in a loose grip for a longer time. In Islamic cultures, showing the soles of your feet is a sign of disrespect and crossing your legs is seen as offensive.

3_________ Jeff Toms tells the story of a British employee asked to post a letter by her Indonesian employer. 'She knew the letter was too late for the six o'clock post, so she decided to hold it until the eight o'clock one. Her boss saw the letter on her desk and sacked her for not posting it immediately. In Western cultures, we believe in empowering people and rewarding them for using initiative, but other cultures operate on the basis of obeying direct orders.'

4_________ 'For them, the most senior person at the meeting will say very little, and the person doing most of the talking is not very important.' Doherty has spent 12 of his 16 years with the IDA working abroad in the USA, Germany, South-East Asia and Japan.

5_________ 'With a population of 125 million condensed into a narrow strip of land, private space for the Japanese is virtually non-existent. You can't worry about your personal space in a packed train when people are standing on your feet.'


Tiptoeing through the minefield


· Show an interest in, and at least an elementary knowledge of the country you are visiting;

· Learn a few words of the language – it will be seen as a compliment;

· Be sensitive to countries who have bigger and better-known neighbours, and try not to confuse Canadians with Americans, New Zealanders with Australians, Belgians with French;

· Familiarise yourself with the basics of business and social etiquette. As a starting point, learning how to greet people is very important.


· Assume you won't meet any communication problems because you speak English. You may think you are paying somebody a compliment by telling them their business is going a bomb, Americans will infer you think it is failing.

· Appear too reserved. As Americans are generally more exuberant than their European colleagues, they may equate reserve with lack of enthusiasm.



to empower                    to give s.b. more control

to go a bomb (GB)        to be successful

etiquette                         polite behaviour

to bomb (US)                 to go badly

exuberant                      happy, cheerful, full of energy


Exercise 1. Match the words from the text with their corresponding definitions.

1. abroad                     a. something done in a society because of tradition

2. a minefield               b. able to understand others' feelIngs

3. a pitfall                     c. in or to a foreign country

4. a custom                  d. something that expresses admiration

5. etiquette                   e. to show or represent

6. scheduled               f. rude or insulting

7. to be a sign of         g. a situation with hidden dangers

8. offensive                 h. formal rules for polite behaviour in society

9. a compliment          i. a likely problem

10. sensitive                  j. arranged for a certain time


Exercise 2. Complete the passage using some words from Exercise 1 in the correct form.


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