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When Not In Rome, What do I do?

social behavior abroad and cultural competence

Last updated on May 23rd, 2023 at 09:15 am

The Importance of Cultural Competence on Both sides of an Interaction

Cultural competence is a buzzword in many circles and is recognized as an increasingly important requirement to be competitive on a global scale.

But, what is Cultural Competence? It is defined as values, behaviors, policies and structure that enable organizations or people to work or relate effectively in a cross cultural environment.

Cultural Competence encompasses understanding and responding to cultural variables such as age, gender, nationality, religion, language, experience and belief system that people involved bring to the interaction. These interactions can occur between friends, business people, client and business, healthcare professionals and patients.

Developing cultural competence is a process that happens over time, and is acquired through a combination of continuous self-assessment and acquisition of cultural knowledge. Becoming a culturally competent individual starts by understanding your own culture, then developing effective interactions with individuals from different cultures, and is matured through your growing cultural knowledge base.


Cultural Awareness through Interaction and Translation

cultural awareness bridge to communication

I had a friend come visit from Japan who I’d never met in person until recently. We became friends on a language exchange site and had an easy time communicating in writing thanks to my handy dictionary app. As a cultural enthusiast, I made it my job to learn all the customs when interacting with Japanese people and I was confident as I remembered the usage of polite language, bowing and the role age plays.

It was to my surprise that when I received him at the airport before I was ever able to bow, he already had his hand stretched out. This may seem trivial at first, but in my mind, being slightly older meant he was to bow at a further degree angle and I was to bow slightly, what happened?  We both did our research on proper etiquette with each other’s cultures.

In fact, he was so open minded to everything, I was compelled to ask what his reasoning was; his answer, “when in Rome do as the Romans do”. Out of this concept, I suddenly realized that interacting with other cultures is not unilateral and that it is the job of both parties to study their counterpart’s culture.

This experience is an example of how important it is to have cultural competence.  This is especially important in a business setting if you are doing advertising  and marketing or developing business relationships with other cultures. Awareness and effort to develop culturally appropriate interactions with your counterparts will be perceived positively and creates a bridge to facilitate communication. Doing it wrong generates barriers in the communication. That is why it is so important to work with an experienced and knowledgeable Translation Company to be effective and culturally appropriate in your communication.  Working with professional translators and interpreters will ensure cultural competence in interactions with your clients.


Customs:  The Rules of a Culture

During my Experience engaging with my Japanese Friend, one thing that was a nonverbal rule but was intuitive is that the host country’s customs took precedence. As much as I wanted to accommodate him, he was ready and open to experience the American culture, which showed that he made an effort to understand the culture of the country that he was visiting. A great start in his journey to Cultural awareness.

Another example of cultural awareness can be found in delivering business presentations.  Let’s say as an example, Sylvia Lopez, a Latino looking to secure business in America, put together a presentation in English that was filled with grammatical errors and references that are foreign to an English speaking audience.  What kind of impression would she make on her English speaking audience that’s made up of members of the committee for international Mergers and Acquisitions?

Language barriers aside, this is clearly not the only error on Sylvia’s part. She failed to conduct proper research for culture appropriate references to use in her presentation, and she did not enlist an English proficient individual who could proofread her presentation.  Had Sylvia done both tasks, she would’ve at least earned the respect of her audience and at best- secured a business deal!translation and localization content to communicate

The lesson learned through Sylvia’s missed business opportunity is that cultural awareness, research, translation and localization of content is critical for businesses to communicate successfully across cultures.  Whenever business counterparts from different countries meet, efforts must be taken to ensure that it is indeed a meeting and not a collision. 


Cultural Understanding Leads to Success!

In business, it is paramount that both parties not only make sure both benefit but that there is a mutual respect and trust. Taking the initiative to respect another’s culture, not expecting to be catered to, or for the other party to do the same, is a sign of interest and understanding of the other person’s culture. It helps you develop positive relationships with your friends, business partners, and patients or doctors by bridging cultural barriers. Even if you are not a master of cultural competence, your good efforts to become one will still have a positive effect.

Taking the time to learn the culture, customs, and even customize the communication angle or approach is one of the best ways to show cultural competence. This practice is very likely to foster a reputation among the business community that results in more customers, better relations with partners, both of which could translates into earnings for any company willing to go the extra mile.

The bottom line?  When In Rome, do like the Romans do.  When targeting a foreign culture, follow the customs of those who live in it- an old but smart approach that takes you to the core of Cultural Competence.


Cultural Competence, An Inseparable part of effective Global Communication

Cultural competence is essential to responding effectively to demographic changes happening in the United States and adapting to the globalization phenomena happening around the world. In addition, cultural competence helps businesses become more competitive in the global marketplace and decreases the likelihood of liability/malpractice claims during other instances including medical and legal settings.

In business settings as well as in content marketing, cultural competence is an inseparable part of effective global communication. That is why you need professional interpreters and professional translators that not only know the languages you need for your interpretation or translation project, but also have the Cultural knowledge to deliver a culturally appropriate Interpretation of a meeting or website translation.

Jackie Ruffolo
Jackie Ruffolo
Jackie was born in Venezuela and has a BS in computer engineering. As President of JR Language, she spends time researching new technology and productivity tools for the Company. She holds a certificate of Localization and Project Management- Localization. Through her many years of experience working in multilingual corporate environments, she understands firsthand the value of bridging language barriers in creating smooth communication that allows for productive and happy work environments. She is fluent in Spanish and English, and is a frequent contributor to both our English and Spanish blogs. 20 Years of experience in marketing Jackie loves nature and to be outdoors.