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Have you been looking for a way to insult prospective business partners? Sour potential opportunities? Have you been itching to appear more impatient, culturally insensitive and generally unlikable? We’ve got some tips for you!

Let’s hope that’s not your mission, but unfortunately it happens every single day. Technology has played a central role in creating a global economy. At the touch of a button we are connected to anyone around the world, but with that convenience comes a caution. Instant communication, be it by phone or email, makes it just a bit easier to turn your face bright red. Here are five easy ways you can embarrass yourself in another culture:

Use sarcasm.
If only there were a special font that could express sarcasm…there isn’t. Assume that whatever you write will be interpreted literally. Accept that you’re no Jerry Lewis; you might not be funny in a different country. Mean what you say, say what you mean.

Keep things casual.
Business culture is much more formal in many parts of the world. Titles are a big deal, and hierarchy is a way of life. It’s best to err on the side of caution; address people as Mr., Ms., Sir or Madam until you are instructed otherwise. Always use a salutation in your emails. So often people get right to the point without a friendly greeting (psst…it’s rude in any culture). The salutation will help establish the right tone from the beginning. Throw in a “Dear” for good measure.

Pepper your communications with idioms, abbreviations and slang. (USE ALL CAPS WHILE YOU’RE AT IT!!!)
Slam dunk, down for the count, hit a home run, down to the wire…these phrases may mean nothing in other parts of the world. BTW, ASAP, FYI—OMG, please stop using them. Acronyms could mean something entirely different in another part of the world (perhaps something offensive). Spare the reader the research time. Dial down the all caps and exclamation points, too. Your expressive manner could be misinterpreted as cheerleader-like enthusiasm or ham-fisted frustration.

Call anytime.
It’s one o’clock in the afternoon for you, but it could be two o’clock in the morning for your colleague. With so many people using cell phones these days (that usually double as alarm clocks), it’s good to be mindful of when you are calling someone in another time zone. Additionally, when referring to time in written communications, it may be safest to use the 24-hour clock. If you are talking about 1:00 p.m., write 13:00.

Be demanding.
It’s good to be a take-charge person who gets things done, but soften your edge when dealing with other cultures. There’s a thin line between confidence and arrogance. Remember to read your messages from the viewpoint of someone who speaks English as a second language. Be mindful that not every culture works at the same frenetic pace that the U.S. does. Try to be patient while waiting for a returned call or email.

It’s true that mistakes are good life lessons, but unintentionally offending someone could be a costly lesson that reflects badly on you and your company. Be thoughtful in your communications with different cultures. Take the time to do some research if you are concerned about what you are saying or writing. As they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. 

Being world-wise can make a world of difference. This year Leading Real Estate Companies of the World® has made over 500 introductions between real estate professionals in over 100 countries. To learn more, please visit 

Beth Kinsella is Global Member Services Manager at Leading Real Estate Companies of the World® (LeadingRE).

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