Business Etiquette

Minimize the language barrier

If you travel extensively, it is unlikely that you’ll be able to speak the language in every country you visit. Since English is the language of business, you may be able to communicate without an interpreter. If you do, it is important to adjust your natural conversational style. To optimize communication:
  • Listen actively
  • Check for understanding
  • Use simple english
  • Avoid Jargon

English is the Language of Business

Three hundred million people speak English as their mother tongue and another half billion non-native English speakers use it daily.
The following are in English:
  • 75% of the world’s mail
  • 80% of the data stored on computer
  • 45% of the world’s scientific publications
Being native English speakers thus gives us an edge in doing business internationally. But it also carries disadvantages. Because we seldom have to step outside ourselves and express our ideas in a different language, we often fail to verify that we have understood, and been understood by, non-native speakers.
We also tend to arrogantly assume that others will use English when dealing with us. People in other countries tend to be sensitive about our inability and unwillingness to use their languages. Do not automatically assume that English will be used or convey an expectation that everyone can, or will choose to, communicate with you in English.

Listen Actively

You cannot listen passively! As the lucky person whose language is chosen as the working language, you are responsible to make sure you give and receive the intended message. Your mental programming affects your interpretation of language, so you need to step outside yourself. This is harder to do when you’re working in your own language. Be like the Italian businessman who, when in Denmark, to use his words, “stop[s] being Italian.”
If you have ever needed to ask for information, service, or food where nobody spoke your language, remember how vulnerable it feels and how much courage it takes to try out your foreign language skills! Also be sure to allow periods of silence in which your conversation partner can formulate her thoughts in English.

How to Step Outside Yourself?

There are several ways to step outside your own framework to better understand others, including:
  • Listening natively – letting go of pre-judgments and concentrating on the words
  • Trying to interpret the words from the other person’s cultural perspective
  • Respecting the fact that the other is speaking your language, not hers



Speakers of different languages have different speech patterns and abilities to tolerate silence in a conversation. English is a direct language, which appears dry, unemotional, and sometimes aggressive to people of other language-cultures. In English, generally one person speaks at a time–the listener replies only when the speaker has finished. English-speakers experience silence as uncomfortable and tolerate only brief pauses in the conversation.
 In some Asian languages silence shows respect for the speaker’s words and indicates that the listener is considering them carefully before responding. To speakers of these languages, jumping in with a reply too quickly demonstrates a lack of respect. This level of silence toleration is often stressful for the English speaker! Familiarize yourself with the speech patterns of those with whom you wish to communicate.