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Archive for the ‘Cultural Differences’ Category

Educate – Don’t Sell: Cultural Differences and Learning Styles

Posted by Nara Venditti on April 2, 2010

Dr. Nara Venditti

Every professional needs to have a little teacher in them. I believe that one of the best ways to persuade and  influence people or market your product or service is by educating.  Educating your customers on the value of your offerings demonstrates your knowledge and expertise and will build credibility and promote long-term, trusting relationships. In any industry, be it education when teacher needs to persuade their students on importance of their subject, in healthcare, when a doctor or a nurse needs to gain patient’s buy in into the treatment, and in just about  in any other industry educating your customers on your offerings and ideas will build your credibility, trust and long-term relationships.

This especially applies to multicultural customers because they are more likely to be unfamiliar with many products and services and how things are done in the US. Yet, learning styles vary across cultures.

Although there are individual differences, consider two studies that indicate generally most cultures can be grouped by how information is absorbed.  One study shows that Hispanics prefer hands-on (kinesthetic) learning. They prefer group activities and better grasp the benefits of a product or a service when they can try it. They also prefer the use of illustrations, graphs and drawings over listening. While another study of academic achievements of international students in the US, showed that Asians tend to be more visual, probably due to the hieroglyphic nature of Asian languages. Both cultures tend to perform worse when the instruction is primarily verbal.  However, verbal instruction is just about the most common in the US and, often than not, sales presentations are delivered verbally. We can see why this may not work well for multicultural customers.  Add here language differences and you will see how effectiveness of educational marketing may suffer.

So, for better results know the learning preferences of the culture you are interacting with. Also, remember that some people may have a mix of learning styles and display a certain learning style that may change depending on situation.

However, as is often the case, what to do when dealing with mixed cultural groups such as in the classroom or in some workplace situations?  Simply use multimodal presentation, employing oral explanation, written materials, images and hands-on activities if possible.


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How to Build Rapport with Multicultural Clients

Posted by Nara Venditti on February 18, 2010

Do you want to expand your customer base and increase revenue? QUIZ: How many of you know that one in five in the US speak a foreign language at home or that 70% of the economic growth in the US is due to minorities? When teaching a workshop on multicultural marketing, typical all hands will go up at the first question and only some at the second question. Yet seldom a hand will go up when I ask if participants know how to go about building rapport with multicultural clientele.

Mastering how to develop strong, lasting, and profitable relationships across cultures in the community may be as easy as remembering an acronym N.A.R.A.

Never Assume – Never assume that all clients are like you or that one size fits all. We tend to think that our way is the best way. However, this is not the case. For instance, for one culture making eye contact could be a sign of respect but for another culture avoiding eye contact shows respect. In another example, n many Asian and South American cultures looking down while addressing a customer shows respect while other cultures would consider this to be rude. 

Ask  – Always ask for their preferences. Our most common behaviors may not apply to all cultures. Rather, as a way of showing respect and gaining confidence, discuss their practices and preferences. For instance, ask questions like,  “Would you like to be addressed by your first name or last name?”,  “Should I extend my hand first to shake a woman’s hand?”,  “ Is it appropriate to ask about the customer’s health or family?”, “Should I embrace, bow or shake hands when greeting the customer?”

Relate– Try to relate on many levels. Americans tend to follow the principle “Let’s get down to business” while for other cultures “Let’s get to know each other first” would be more appropriate. A great relationship builder is to use basic phrases  in LingioClick$™. For instance try saying “shen-shen”(thank  in Chinese), “gracias” (thank you in Spanish) or “shukria” (thank you in the Indian languages) and you will see how your customers’ eyes light up! They may not remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel. And, as with most consumers, more often than not our emotions shape our decisions.

Ask the expert – Learn about the cultural norms and values of the immigrant communities in your area by attending ethnic festivals, meeting your potential customers and their leaders face-to-face. Read literature, attend a seminar or organize a workshop. Also try building relationships on their turf and then invite them to your place of business. While we are not expected to be experts in every culture in the world, we should be aware of important issues pertaining to demographics that we want to do business with.

I have outlined a framework for building relationships and rapport across cultures. While it may seem simple, the devil is in details. Keep in mind that cultural competence is not a destination, it is a journey and that those who pay attention to the details will succeed.

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Behavioral vs Skill Tests

Posted by Nara Venditti on February 1, 2010

Recruiters need to keep in mind that behavioral interviews may be misleading when dealing with multicultural candidates, especially those who interview for certain categories of jobs in entry level or technical positions.

In the US, much emphasis is placed on performance during behavioral interview phase of hiring process. When determining who is the best candidate for the position, sometimes in the US we are getting too carried away with the significance of the results of the behavioral interview.

However, behavioral interviews are pretty much prepared answers, and they very often indicate candidates’ ability to self-promote rather than do the  job.

Describing past experiences and accomplishments may be very challenging for the candidates from high context cultures (e.g. Asia, Latin America).  Self-promotion is not appreciated in many parts of the world.  When we look for the best candidates regardless of his or hers background we need to keep that in mind.

In my opinion, skill tests are much more objective particularly when we are dealing with foreign-born candidates.

Note: link to YouTube

Posted in Cultural Differences, Employment Careers Recruitment, Recruiting Foreign Workers | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Naming Game

Posted by Nara Venditti on November 9, 2009

Names are an important element on the platform of human relationships. Correctly pronouncing your student’s or colleague’s name goes a long way towards earning the individual’s respect and trust.  This could be a challenge, however, when you’re up against a name like Javarkharlal. It is always appropriate to ask “Am I pronouncing it right?”  Then repeat the name a few times so that your mouth and tongue could practice the unusual sounds and combination of sounds.

When dealing with multicultural students, customers, or colleagues, it is helpful to keep these points in mind:

1. Naming tradition differs across cultures.  For instance, in some cultures, person’s last name comes before the given name. In my own country of origin, Armenia, I would be Venditti Nara, rather than Nara Venditti. Or, suppose you greet Hong Genfu from China as Mr. Genfu. That may be the same as addressing Bob Johnson as Mr. Bob

2. It is not always easy to distinguish which is the first name or which is last. We may greet Harlan Henry from the Caribbean, as Henry because it is the more common first name in the US.

 3. Hispanic names usually include both mother’s and father’s family names.     It is father’s name that is used in addressing the person.

To learn more about addressing etiquette across cultures, read my article  at

Nara Venditti, Ph.D., is a platform speaker, educator and author. She is the president of Succeed in America, LLC and author of “How to Get A Job in the USA ” and “Ameri$peak.”. She is an expert in foreign born employee development, global diversity and business English and a frequent presenter at Conferences, Companies and educational institutions. She speaks on careers, communication and diversity. She can be reached at +1 203 791 1107 or

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In the Workplace Take Humor Seriously

Posted by Nara Venditti on November 9, 2009

We all know that humor is good for you. It is well known that lighthearted laughter will regulate one’s blood pressure, accelerate recovery from illness and decrease stress in the workplace. In other words, laughter can be good medicine. It’s true that all cultures enjoy humor and laughter, but how people perceive humor is culture specific. With increasing cultural diversity in the workplace, we need to keep in mind that humor is meant to be funny, not insulting. What perceived as funny in one culture, might not be understood or might even be insulting in another. Some cultures use sarcastic or put-down humor in conversations so as to tease each other. Other cultures do not use sarcastic humor and find this type of humor offensive. Often in a diverse gathering an inappropriate joke may misfire. So I do not recommend poke fun at other groups and individuals in professional and business gatherings. How to determine what kind of humor is appropriate? If you want some fun, have it at your own expense – the safest type of humor is self-depreciating humor Do not tell jokes related to physical appearance like a person’s height, weight or the size of their nose. Keep in mind that humor does not translate well because very often it is based on word plays or puns, and these do not translate easily into another language. Do not tell political, religious, ethnic, racial jokes and other jokes that ridicule peoples’ beliefs or affiliations or even accents. In one organization I recently presented at, a manager was demoted for repeatedly ridiculing an employee’s accent. As you can see, sometimes “humor” is no funny business! So know what, when, where, who and how to kid around. Nara Venditti, Ph.D., is a platform speaker, educator and author. She is the president of Succeed in America, LLC and author of “How to Get A Job in the USA ” and “Ameri$peak.”. She is an expert in foreign born employee development, global diversity and business English and a frequent presenter at conferences, companies, public libraries, and educational institutions. She speaks on careers, communication and global and multicultural diversity. She can be reached at +1 203 791 1107 or

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Sexual Harassment or Not?

Posted by Nara Venditti on September 10, 2009

When I teach my course on American business etiquette to multicultural audiences I get a lot of questions on appropriate and inappropriate behavior in the American workplace.  Because norms vary across cultures, behavioral norms across cultures can be inappropriate, at times shocking or even legally unacceptable and subject to a law suit.

Despite the growing focus on cultural understanding during the last few decades, managing cultural differences of the international professionals and their families is often on the bottom of the priorities.  The human resources professionals need to keep in mind that although many cultures have same values and concepts (e.g. punctuality, business etiquette, romantic love, and revenge) the real difference is in how they are interpreted.  For instance, there is no doubt that romantic love in France will be different from romantic love in Iceland or Egypt. So, we need to keep in mind that socially acceptable behavior varies across cultures. What holds right in one society will not be so in the other.

Consider this passage by Laura Klos-Sokol, cited in R. Nolan’s excellent book “Communicating and adapting across cultures”: “Imagine a professional meeting beginning like this: a woman enters an office and introduces herself, extending her hand to shake only to have him kiss it. Next, he helps her off with her coat and takes her by the arm to usher her over to a chair three feet away.  This is the Polish way: she could sue for it in the United States”. 

Many times I have encountered similar behavior in my native Armenia and Russia. This  was part of good manners and was considered  “classy” behavior.  In some cultures, males are expected to be dominant and gallant.  On the other hand, when I first experienced the American “bear hug”[1] in Armenia with a man from the US, it made me very uncomfortable and I was relieved that my fellow countrymen were not there to witness such a “frivolous” gesture.

Professionals moving  to the United States must take into consideration the unspoken rules of gender interaction accepted in this country.  Not knowing the rules may become traumatic and even dangerous from a legal perspective – the employer may be sued for sexual harassment.   On the other hand, a female student of mine from Northern Brazil told me once how she missed that whistle of admiration (or tease, I thought) the men would produce when she would pass by.     It may be normal in some Northern Brazilian workplaces to whistle when an attractive woman will pass by. Whistle – is not something you would expect a man to do in American streets or workplace, even if you are a Sophia Loren or Miss America.  Men in Italy are notorious for whistling at attractive women in such a manner that would make most American construction workers blush. …  Italian, Brazilian and Armenian  women may not take offense at such behavior and even take it as expression of appreciation. As a rule, professional women in the US would not appreciate it.  This can be very disturbing and threatening for Northern American women and they may consider this humiliating and discriminating. As a nation, Americans are committed to equal rights for women.  For this reason women are expected to be treated as equal to men.

Many countries throughout the world have sexual harassment laws in place.  However, different nations have different interpretations of them.  That is why I define sexual harassment as “inappropriate (from American standpoint) behavior when interacting with the opposite sex.” (Ameri$peak, Succeed in America Books, 2006, p. 66).

In business world, lack of information about etiquette and unspoken rules on gender interaction and norms can create misunderstanding crucial for an individual’s success.  



To help your foreign-born employees understand behavioral norms in the US workplace


  1. Consider the possibility that you actually have a problem.  Never assume that your employees know the intricacies of gender interaction in the US or you will have a problem or even… get sued!
  2. Think about getting a professional to conduct a training program and set expectations about American workplace culture.


[1] Bear hug is a rigorous, emotional embrace which signifies a greeting  (the individuals’ hands embrace each other and upper parts of the body come in close contact for a second or two) –NV, see Ameri$peak™ update at .

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