top of page

Writing Emails with a Global Mindset: A Guide to Cultural Awareness (Part 1)

Updated: Aug 8, 2023

By Valerie Bath, Intercultural Strategist at Global Coach Center


Global cultural awareness is important when you write emails because it helps to ensure that your message is understood and is also well received by your recipients. Cultural differences can greatly impact the way people interpret and respond to written communication, and failure to take these differences into account can lead to miscommunication, offense, or even damage to professional relationships. For this reason, we should strive to write emails with a global mindset.


Aspects of Communication Across Cultures

For example, some cultures may value indirect communication or polite language, while others may prefer more direct and assertive communication. In some cultures, it is important to establish a personal connection before discussing business matters, while in others, it may be seen as unnecessary or inappropriate. Additionally, differences in time zones and holidays may impact the timing and urgency of your message.

Two people shaking hands in front of a globe.

Etiquette Expectations

Different cultures may have different expectations for email etiquette, such as the use of formal salutations or signatures. For example, in some cultures, it is customary to use titles and formal language, while in others, a more casual tone may be appropriate. Understanding these cultural nuances can help you avoid unintentionally offending or confusing your recipients.


Language Usage

English is a widely used language for business communication, but even within the English-speaking world, there are variations in vocabulary, grammar, and spelling. Additionally, idiomatic expressions and slang may not translate well across cultures. Taking the time to consider your word choice and phrasing can help ensure that your email is clear and understandable to your recipients, regardless of their native language.


An example of how writing emails with a global mindset can impact the clarity of your message in email communication is when using idiomatic expressions or slang that may not translate well across cultures.

Picture of a globe with focus on Asia

For instance, imagine you are planning to write emails to a business partner from Japan and you want to express your excitement about a new project. You might be tempted to use a common English expression like "let's knock it out of the park" to convey your enthusiasm. However, this phrase may not be familiar to someone from a different cultural background, and could lead to confusion or misinterpretation.


Instead, you could consider rephrasing your message in a way that is more universally understood, such as "I am very excited about this new project and am confident that we can achieve great results together." This sentence conveys the same message of enthusiasm and confidence, but does so in a way that is clear and easy to understand regardless of cultural background.


By taking the time to consider your word choice and phrasing in email communication, you can ensure that your message is conveyed clearly and effectively to your recipients, avoiding misunderstandings and promoting productive communication. By writing emails with a global mindset, you're more likely to create positive responses in your reader.


Nonverbal communication differences

In some cultures, nonverbal cues such as facial expressions or body language may be more important than written or spoken words. Depending on your recipients' cultural background, they may interpret your email differently based on factors like tone, emphasis, or use of emoticons.

Smiling woman with coffee or tea

Nonverbal cues such as body language and tone of voice can greatly impact communication. However, in email communication, these cues are absent, which can lead to misinterpretation. For example, an email written in all capital letters can be perceived as shouting or anger, when the writer may have simply been trying to emphasize a point.

Being aware of these cultural differences can help you convey your intended meaning more effectively.


Religion and Holidays

Different cultures may observe different holidays or religious traditions, which can impact communication timing and urgency. For example, some cultures may prioritize time off for religious holidays, while others may view working through holidays as a sign of dedication. Writing emails with a global mindset can help you avoid sending emails at inappropriate times or making assumptions about your recipients' availability.


Use of Direct vs. Indirect Communication

In some cultures, indirect communication is valued and preferred over direct communication. For example, in Japanese culture, it is common to use indirect language and avoid direct criticism or disagreement. However, in other cultures, such as the United States, direct and straightforward communication is often valued. Misunderstandings can occur when one party perceives a message as too direct or not direct enough.


In some cultures, indirect communication is valued and preferred over direct communication. However, in other cultures, such as the United States, direct and straightforward communication is often valued.

Different Meanings of Words

Words can have different meanings in different cultures. For example, the word "okay" is a common way of expressing agreement or confirmation in Western cultures. However, in some cultures, such as Thailand, nodding the head or saying "yes" does not necessarily mean agreement, but rather an acknowledgement of having heard what was said. This can cause confusion and misinterpretation when you write emails. By writing emails with a global mindset, we can potentially avoid these misunderstandings.


Use of Humor

The use of humor can vary greatly across cultures. What may be considered funny or witty in one culture may be seen as inappropriate or offensive in another. A joke or sarcastic comment in an email can easily be misinterpreted by a recipient from a different cultural background, leading to a breakdown in communication.

By being mindful of these cultural differences and adapting your communication accordingly, you can help build stronger, more productive relationships with your global colleagues and partners.


A watch or clock to keep time

Time Sensitivity

Different cultures place different emphasis on punctuality and meeting deadlines. For example, in some cultures, such as Germany and Switzerland, punctuality is highly valued, and being late for a meeting or missing a deadline can be seen as disrespectful.


In other cultures, such as those in Latin America or the Middle East, being a few minutes late is not uncommon, and deadlines may be viewed as more flexible. This can lead to misunderstandings and missed opportunities if deadlines or meeting times are not communicated clearly when you write emails.



Examples: Writing Emails with a Global Mindset


Example Emails

Here is an example of how time sensitivity differences in cultural communication styles might play out between the United States and India:


Suppose that a U.S.-based company is communicating with an Indian supplier about a delay in delivery of a shipment of parts.


The U.S. company might write an email that goes something like this:


US Company Email Example


"Dear supplier,


We regret to inform you that there has been a delay in the delivery of the parts we ordered from you. We understand that this may cause inconvenience for you, but we hope to receive the parts as soon as possible. Please let us know if there is anything we can do to expedite the process.


Thank you for your understanding.


Best regards, [Name]"



The Indian supplier might respond with an email that looks like this:


India Company Email Example


"Dear [Name],


Thank you for your email. We understand that there has been a delay in the shipment and we are working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.


Please rest assured that we will do everything we can to expedite the delivery process. We appreciate your patience and understanding in this matter.


Best regards, [Supplier Name]"


In this example, we can see that the U.S. company's email is relatively direct and to the point, while the Indian supplier's email is more formal and emphasizes relationship-building. The Indian supplier uses more deferential language and apologizes for any inconvenience, while the U.S. company focuses more on problem-solving and finding a solution.


These differences in communication styles are reflective of broader cultural differences between the United States and India, and it is important to be aware of them when communicating across cultures to avoid misunderstandings and build effective relationships.


By writing emails with a global mindset, and taking steps to clarify any ambiguities or cultural differences in email communication, you can avoid misunderstandings and build stronger, more effective relationships with colleagues and partners from different cultural backgrounds.


Addressing superiors

In many cultures, it is important to write emails using formal titles and honorifics when addressing superiors in business communication. For example, in Japan, it is common to use honorifics like "san" or "sama" when addressing someone of higher status. In contrast, in the United States, it is more common to use first names in business communication. Misunderstandings can occur if the appropriate level of formality is not observed when addressing superiors.

Two people shaking hands

Tone of communication

Different cultures may have different expectations for the tone of communication when addressing someone of higher status. For example, in some cultures, such as South Korea, it is important to use deferential language and show respect to superiors. In other cultures, such as the United States, a more direct and assertive communication style may be more acceptable. Misunderstandings can occur if the tone of communication is not appropriate for the cultural context.


Decision-making

In some cultures, decision-making is highly hierarchical, with decisions made by those in positions of authority. In other cultures, decision-making may be more collaborative, with input sought from a range of stakeholders. When communicating with colleagues or partners from different cultural backgrounds, it is important to be aware of these differences in decision-making processes to avoid misunderstandings and ensure effective collaboration.


Negotiations

In some cultures, such as China or Japan, negotiations may involve a great deal of relationship-building and socializing before any business is conducted. In other cultures, such as the United States, negotiations may be more focused on achieving a favorable outcome for one's own interests. Understanding these cultural differences can help you navigate negotiations and build stronger relationships with colleagues and partners from different cultural backgrounds.


Writing Emails with a Global Mindset

Being aware of these cultural differences and adapting your communication accordingly, you can build stronger, more effective relationships with colleagues and partners from different cultural backgrounds and avoid misunderstandings that can arise from differences in hierarchy.

Woman typing on keyboard

By taking the time to understand and respect cultural differences, you can write emails to be more effective and appropriate for your recipients, improving the likelihood of a positive response and productive relationship. This can be especially important in a global business context where cross-cultural communication is common.


Interested in Learning More? Reach out to Valerie Bath, an experienced global cultural consultant and the founder of Cultural Business Consulting and managing principal of the Global Coach Center. With over 20 years of enriching experience working with multinational companies, Valerie is passionate about fostering cultural understanding and promoting inclusion in the workplace.



Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page