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Culture Shock

Culture Shock: How to speak business anywhere

An abrupt response to a simple telephone greeting changed the trajectory of Gayle Cotton’s career.

When Cotton began her career working at the United Nations in Geneva in the early-90s, she answered a routine phone call with a polite, “Hello, how are you?”

Surprisingly, the person on the other end of the call was annoyed.

“He answered, ‘That’s none of your business. Now what I want to talk about is…’,” recalled Cotton, now president of Circles Of Excellence Inc, which offers training and coaching programs to global clients from its offices in the US and Europe.

It was nothing personal; the caller, a Swiss German, wanted to get down to business, and the personal was irrelevant. She began answering her phone using just her last name — emulating her colleagues in Geneva.

The experience and some similar interactions led Cotton, author of Say Anything to Anyone, Anywhere, to her current career.

In an increasingly globalised workplace, where team members might be spread across continents and clients spread even more widely, communicating proper cultural norms can be the difference between working well together and securing a deal — or watching things crumble.

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