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Culture and language

It’s important to have an understanding of the culture of the market you’ll be approaching as there are things in a country’s culture which affect how you win business.

Tips on overcoming cultural and language challenges:

The Asian culture is probably the furthest from our own, so here are some tips from international business strategist Christine Losecaat on adapting to the Asian culture.

  • Saving face is crucial to Asians and as a result a ‘yes’ can be given when they actually mean ‘no’.
  • They won’t criticise so don’t do it either.
  • Harmony is very important and affects the way a business works. Asians will often make collective decisions adding time to the process. As a result, you can also find 20 or 30 people in a meeting.
  • Be aware that non-verbal messages are often trusted more than the spoken word.
  • Observe for yourself non-verbal communication, for instance if they’re concentrating Asians will often close their eyes.
  • Age and status are very important. The most senior person will often be sat opposite the equivalent on your side, which can be a good way to identify the decision maker.
  • In China you can easily hand out 500 business cards in a week.
  • Be on time and always be polite. Compliment and praise them for the language they do know, even if it’s limited.
  • In Asia it is more respectful to telephone for an appointment and try to do so several weeks in advance (except in China where everything is always last minute).
  • Contracts are important but are seen as being quite flexible – you will inevitably have to deliver 40% more than you anticipate. Factor this into costings.
  • You may be commissioned to do low value jobs initially – these are often a way of testing you. Learn from them and use this when contracts with higher value come along.
  • Be prepared to take your shoes off (make sure your socks are matching and have no holes).
  • Dress in office wear.

Tips on language.

  • Invest in an interpreter for all initial meetings and the whole process if you can.
  • Try and script your meetings so the interpreter can follow and keep it simple.
  • Give the interpreter a week to prepare and educate them on the terminology and technical terms you will use.
  • Ideally have some language capability in-house – perhaps a foreign student as an intern whose role can grow.

Working internationally

exportThinking of exporting your design services overseas? Or already exporting but looking for new market information or strategy advice?

To make it easier for you to navigate the wealth of information available to exporters, we’ve pulled together the key details and advice relevant to the design industry and included signposting to further information and contacts.

What’s included?

1. Should designers export?

2. First steps to exporting

3. Developing an export strategy

4. Leveraging reputation



6. Payment essentials
7. Exporting support and contacts
8. Design business case studies and guidance
9. Country guides and contact details

Image credits: © Gualtiero Boffi | © Stocksnapper Dreamstime.com