Speaking a universal language
“Our needs as humans are pretty similar. How we exhibit them is very much defined by the culture that we’ve grown up in or the cultures that we’ve been exposed to, but people are people no matter where we go in the world. Please and thank you are paramount to everybody. Good manners work everywhere.” (Geoff Cranko, Unfiltered.co.nz interview)
In agency account management you are required to get along with people of all cultures. Your job may involve international travel; you may work with clients from differing various ethnic communities; one of your client contacts may be of a different cultural background; or you may have moved overseas to work. It always pays to be sensitive to cultural differences, especially if there is a chance that what you say or do could cause unintentional offence.
Much of how we carry ourselves, our actions, gestures, how we speak, and what we say, are defined by the country and culture that we've been brought up in. Certain things that are acceptable (or expected) in one culture may be frowned upon in another.
Speak "The Queen's English"
Using colloquialisms, slang and even industry jargon can be dangerous territory when talking with people from a different culture. Even if you think your cultures are similar (e.g. USA and the UK), it is still possible to experience miscommunication - especially if you throw in different (and sometimes difficult-to-understand) accents.
The safest route to take is to speak 'The Queen's English' (even if you don't speak English!). That's another way of saying to speak with simple words that cannot be misconstrued, to speak them clearly, and not too quickly. This type of language is refined with no slang, street talk, or text speak. Think about how you would speak if you were conversing with the Queen of England, and you're pretty much in the right ballpark!
Next to colloquialisms and jargon, humour is the next most dangerous territory to venture into. Until you know a person really well, it's safest not to try to be funny at all (and even when you do know them well you still have to be careful). What is funny for one person, may not be funny for another - especially if their native language is different from yours.
A smile is one of the few things that means the same in every language. Unless your smile looks obviously forced (or creepy), it should be well-received and reciprocated. A smile can be heard in your voice, when you are talking on the phone; it can break down barriers when you meet someone for the first time; and, best yet, it doesn't cost you a cent!
Mind your manners
Different cultures will have different ways that they express gratitude and politeness. If you know you will be meeting people of a certain culture, it pays to do a bit of research into what is considered good etiquette (or what not to do). At a bare minimum, simple acts of saying "please" and "thank you" are universal to everyone; as is respectfully listening to others, and using a calm, gentle tone of voice when speaking. Good manners are just as important as good creative when it comes to winning and keeping clients.
Working with people of different cultures is an exciting and enriching experience. You don't have to be a cultural expert, you just need to be polite, kind, empathetic, and mindful. "Do (and talk) unto others as you would have them do (and talk) unto you", and you can't go wrong!
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