Saturday, April 20, 2013

Email Etiquette: The Challenges of Communicating Internationally Via Email

We all want to be polite don't we? Especially in business. As such, etiquette is very important in our business lives as this helps us all stay "polite," keeping us all happy.

However, etiquette only works when we share the same ideas about what is right and wrong. Communication at the best of times can be difficult, but when you add in the fact that there is no face-to-face contact, as in the case of email contact, it can get even trickier. Add onto that the fact that you might have different cultures, people with different languages, in different time zones and you can see why getting your etiquette right, could be a small challenge.

Fortunately though, it's a problem that can be overcome.

Read on for a few tips, and anecdotes about international email etiquette in our interconnected world.

Email and Language

Let's start with language shall we and that's a right old minefield. So much business is carried out in the English language but it's not exactly the easiest to master is it? Spelling and punctuation can cause so many problems, dont, sorry don't even get me going on how to use the apostrophe.

The Queen's English?

Getting words mixed up is another obvious problem and time for what I promise is a true story. I received an overdue press release from an overseas book publishing company and the sender apologised to me for "any incontinence caused be the delay." A simple mistake by someone whose native language isn't English and it was about three years before I deleted that email.

Preventing confusion when 'speaking' English via email: it is easy

If English isn't the language that you are used to communicating in then the resultant emails you send out can be pretty confusing. Clear language and the prevention of confusion are paramount, again I've dealt with clients who respond in broken English and the fact I'm not totally certain what they mean is a recipe for disaster.

Take this for example, "we would like to discuss the option to intent you offered of distribution." Are you totally sure what the client is trying to tell me? The clues are there so I simply read through the sentence a few times, remembered the problem at hand and just about worked out what he was really trying to say. If I still wasn't sure then I'd have simply replied and asked for clarification.

Another method is to simply send questions that can be answered either "yes" or "no." Cutting out the possible misunderstanding BEFORE IT CAN OCCUR is the key target here. Ah, yes that old adage; prevention is better...

Culture and Emails

Then there's the culture to contend with. The movie 'Lost in Translation' may have been an entertaining romp but it's no such thing in the business world. It's not just the language that can be different because in some cultures even the format of the email is different. Some leave out the name of the person the email is being sent to and just go straight into the message. That's not how I've been taught to send emails, particularly important ones but that's their culture so I have to adapt to it.

Try not to use slang in your email because that work colleague in Madrid might not have a clue what it means. The same goes for puns, idioms, joke-phrases and definitely for swear words. You're trying to conduct business not start World War III. Some cultures may be formal and want detailed emails but others may be satisfied with "yes" or "no" answers.

Words and phrases can have different meaning in differing cultures so be careful. What if I told an American client I had some faggots in the freezer and I can't wait to eat them for my supper. An English client might ask for an invite but in the States they'll think I'm both homophobic and the next Hannibal Lector.

Are emails really that straightforward?

Sending emails seems such a straightforward way to deal with business clients wherever they reside, but it can be more complicated then you might think at first, and in business even the tiniest of misunderstandings can cost you money, time or even business contacts! So, get your email etiquette polished today!

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