Approximately one-third of all Americans today are minori- ties and, by 2044, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that minority groups will represent over half of the population. In
2014, Hispanics, African Americans,
Asians and Middle Easterners bought
$3.4 trillion worth of goods and services. These stunning commerce numbers have caught the attention of
professional speakers and trainers
across the United States and around the
world who want a piece of this potential business.
Speakers are increasingly encountering meeting planners, association executives, corporate event organizers, bureau
representatives and others from different cultures than themselves. Unless we
do our homework, those of us who
speak outside the United States are sure
to encounter cross-cultural challenges
that can range from frustrating to deal
killing if we don’t know how to bridge
the gaps in language and culture.
In my work over the last 30 years, I
have helped companies such as Coca-Cola, General Motors, Charles Schwab
and State Farm Insurance to increase
their sales to customers in different cultures by learning about and getting past
differences that are readily apparent on
the outside. Once we discover how similar we all are on the inside, we can establish and build long-lasting relationships.
What’s in a Name?
One of the most intimidating differences between cultures involves names.
A client’s name can sometimes be eight
or 10 syllables long, such as the Hawaiian surname Kamakawiwo’ole. The easiest way to deal with a name like this is
to immediately ask clients how to pronounce their name and then write it
down phonetically (
kah-mah-ka-wee-woe-olee) so you can remember it
exactly and correctly.
It’s not always pronunciation that
raises concern. The actual names of
clients from outside the United States
also can be confusing. For example,
when dealing with a Chinese person
whose name is “Lee Wong Kong,” you
don’t know if they are following the
American custom of putting the surname last (Kong) or the ancient Chinese custom of putting the surname
first (Lee) because family is so important in that culture. To avoid any confusion all you need to do is simply ask,
“Which is your family name?” Otherwise, you run the risk of insulting them
by calling them the equivalent of “Mr.
Bill” for your entire relationship.
a Handy Tip
Another challenge is how to properly
greet customers from different cultures.
For instance, Americans are taught that
it is polite to greet everyone with a firm
handshake. However, in today’s global
world, this kind of greeting could be
insulting or disastrous, particularly when
meeting a woman from Japan, India or
the Middle East. Rather than automatically putting your hand out, introduce
yourself verbally (e.g., “Hi, I’m
Michael”) and then wait to see what
kind of greeting you receive. Often, it
will just be the nod of the head to
Michael Soon lee, MBa, cSP
keting for Speakers