Oct 17, 2019
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Cultural Sensitivity in Business

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Neglect the saying ‘the world is getting smaller’ – it has shrunk. Advances in transport and communications expertise mixed with the event of a world financial system have resulted in individuals from totally different nations, cultures, languages and backgrounds now speaking, assembly and doing enterprise with each other greater than ever.

There are some observers that declare this new discovered intimacy has result in a higher understanding of ‘the opposite’ and consequently our cultural variations are actually diminishing. Nevertheless, in actuality the alternative is true. As we come collectively our cultural variations turn into accentuated as we begin to realise that the remainder of the world is just not studying from the identical guide. One space the place that is now being felt is in enterprise.

Only a few companies can escape the necessity to sooner or later in time cope with overseas colleagues, purchasers or clients. Enterprise is worldwide and if an organisation desires to develop and develop it must harness the potential a world stage presents. Twenty years in the past British, European and American organisations doing enterprise overseas had little or no competitors because of the lack of rival industrialised nations. Again then it was straightforward to do enterprise ‘our approach’. As we speak among the world’s largest economies embrace Japan, China, Mexico, Brazil, India and Korea. Consequently there was a small shift from ‘our approach’ to ‘let’s try to perceive your approach’. Why? As a result of western organisations are feeling the affect an absence of cultural sensitivity can and does have upon enterprise efficiency.

Many organisations are actually investing closely in offering employees with language classes so as to have the ability to crack overseas markets in addition to offering cultural sensitivity coaching to handle points corresponding to etiquette, protocol, communication kinds and negotiation approaches. In a aggressive world such companies respect that higher cultural sensitivity will help them in forging longer and extra affluent relationships. But progress is gradual. Sadly a unconscious sense of cultural superiority nonetheless appears to reign; one which assumes the remainder of the world does enterprise like us and if they do not then they need to.

The world’s inhabitants nevertheless come from many religions, cultures, world views and experiences which makes such an assumption futile. We’re all totally different and consequently doing enterprise throughout borders (whether or not political, spiritual, cultural or linguistic) requires cultural sensitivity, which means a way of empathy, flexibility and creativity knowledgeable by cultural information. As with most issues in life, enterprise has learnt the laborious approach.

As an instance how these classes have and are nonetheless being learnt we are going to have a look at some examples the place an absence of cultural sensitivity has let an organization, particular person or product down. For the sake of brevity these have been summed up in two easy classes: tradition and language.


Tradition is available in many styles and sizes. It consists of areas corresponding to politics, historical past, religion, mentality, behaviour and way of life. The next examples show how an absence of cultural sensitivity led to failure.

* When colouring in 800,000 pixels on a map of India, Microsoft colored eight of them a unique shade of inexperienced to symbolize the disputed Kashmiri territory. The distinction in greens meant Kashmir was proven as non-Indian, and the product was promptly banned in India. Microsoft was left to recall all 200,000 copies of the offending Home windows 95 working system software program to try to heal the diplomatic wounds. It value them hundreds of thousands.

*The quick meals big McDonald’s spent 1000’s on a brand new TV advert to focus on the Chinese language shopper. The advert confirmed a Chinese language man kneeling earlier than a McDonald’s vendor and begging him to simply accept his expired low cost coupon. The advert was pulled attributable to an absence of cultural sensitivity on McDonald’s behalf. The advert brought on uproar over the truth that begging is taken into account a shameful act in Chinese language tradition.

* A pleasant instance of how photos do not translate properly throughout cultures is the time employees on the African port of Stevadores noticed the ‘internationally recognised’ image for “fragile” (i.e. damaged wine glass) and presumed it was a field of damaged glass. Somewhat than waste house they threw all of the packing containers into the ocean.

* When the US agency Gerber began promoting child meals in Africa they used the identical packaging as within the US, i.e. with an image of a child on the label. Gross sales flopped they usually quickly realised that in Africa firms usually place photos of contents on their labels.

* Pepsodent tried to promote its toothpaste in South East Asia by emphasizing that it “whitens your tooth.” They came upon that the native natives chew betel nuts to blacken their tooth which they discover engaging.

* The movie “Hollywood Buddha” confirmed a whole lack of cultural sensitivity by inflicting outrage and protest on the streets of Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Burma when the designer of the movie’s poster determined to point out the lead actor sitting on the Buddha’s head, an act of clear degradation in opposition to one thing holy.

* The idea of Massive Brother was one way or the other taken to the Center East. The present was pulled of the air after its first few episodes attributable to public protests and strain from spiritual our bodies stating the present’s blended intercourse format was in opposition to Islamic rules.

* A golf ball manufacturing firm packaged golf balls in packs of 4 for handy buy in Japan. Sadly, the quantity four is equal to the quantity 13 due it sounding just like the phrase “loss of life”. The corporate needed to repackage the product.


The enterprise world is suffering from poor translations which have brought on nice embarrassment to their perpetrators attributable to their lack of cultural sensitivity. The next are among the choicest examples.

* IKEA as soon as tried to promote a workbench referred to as FARTFULL – not a vastly common product for apparent causes.

* Each Clairol and the Irish alcoholic drink Irish Mist didn’t correctly contemplate the German language once they launched their merchandise there. Clairol’s hair-curling iron “Mist Stick” and the drink “Irish Mist” each flopped – why? ‘Mist’ interprets in German as “manure”.

* The Japanese appear to have a specific aptitude for naming merchandise. The nation has given us gems corresponding to “homo cleaning soap”, “coolpis”, “Germ bread” and “Shito Combine”.

* A brand new facial cream with the identify “Joni” was proposed for advertising in India. They modified the identify for the reason that phrase translated in Hindi meant “feminine genitals.”

* Coors had its slogan, “Flip it unfastened,” translated into Spanish, the place it turned “Endure from diarrhoea.”

All of the examples cited above might simply have been averted by conducting some primary analysis in respect to checking the idea, design, form, color, packaging, message or identify within the goal tradition. Within the majority of instances it’s merely assumed that ‘whether it is OK for us it’s OK for them’. If companies need to succeed internationally, cultural sensitivity have to be on the coronary heart of all the pieces they do; from their private interplay and relationships with purchasers to the merchandise/providers they develop.

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