Lost in Translation?

CULTURE | Mar 31, 2017

Cultural awareness, accuracy and value-sensitive communication are key in making your messaging connect globally

Diamonds on diamonds
Working with raw materials and cutting tools, some Tiffany & Co. employees around the world perform dangerous work. In 2016, the company needed a fresh campaign to update its safety procedures that would be understandable in 20 languages and culturally appropriate in 32 countries.

The campaign included PowerPoint presentations, posters, talking points and more. Through working with a translation vendor around the clock to perfect wording and dedicating time to working with cultural liaisons in Tiffany & Co. locations worldwide, the pieces were thoroughly inspected to ensure that all translated work was culturally sound and in company-appropriate voice and tone. Through these efforts to ensure cultural sensitivity, Tiffany & Co. was able to successfully implement the year-long campaign to positive feedback from senior leaders and site managers alike.

Multinational corporations like Tiffany & Co. rely on clear, relevant communication to keep employees informed, build trust and strengthen the company’s position. These messages must navigate cultural differences, language barriers and varying perceptions about the work and the workplace.

What’s culture got to do with it?

To maintain cross-cultural sensitivity, professional communicators should focus first on two things: audience and tone. Before crafting a message, they should understand who is receiving the information and where they live. Audience awareness influences communication style, timeliness of delivery and presentation style.

As internal communicators, our job is to correspond genuinely with our audience, whoever and wherever they may be. The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) Code of Ethics puts sensitivity to “cultural values and beliefs” on par with legality and ethics. Engagement with global audiences is successful through the use employing best communication practices such as accurate translations, sensitivity in language and imagery, and awareness of differences in values, attitudes and perceptions.

Accommodating diverse audiences

Technology has placed so much power and accessibility at our fingertips, it is up to us to harness it to empower our audience through compelling and personal content. Now, it’s easier than ever to communicate to an audience on an international scale, but if research and awareness aren’t considered in the creation of global messaging, it risks offending a wide audience, too.

We can assume that audiences around the world will interpret, evaluate and respond to messaging differently based upon their culture. In order to take advantage of these distinctions rather than fall victim to them, we need to consider how quickly lack of cultural sensitivity can translate to lack of respect. This is not a message that employees expect from the companies and the people they work for, so avoiding these pitfalls is important.

IABC articles can be valuable references when determining what is appropriate and how it is best communicated. Simple tips like avoiding stereotypes and understanding how certain cultures view sensitive information, such as age or marital status, can help avoid embarrassing slip-ups.

Looking forward

For many companies, connecting with employees across country and cultural lines is a daily challenge. By placing importance on the communication that is delivered to internal audiences, we can create a deep connection that enable strong relationships, builds trust and makes employees feel valued. Taking conscious steps to do extensive research on the cultures of employees worldwide and working with cultural liaisons are just examples of strides that can be taken to elevate the company in the audience’s minds.

To keep up with growth, internal communicators must take the time to approach cultural differences and communication styles with sensitivity and thoughtfulness. Culture is not one-size fits-all, and it should not be treated that way.

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If you’re ready to change how your people use their benefits, experience company culture, and take actions that drive success at work and in life, we’re ready to help. Together, we can raise the bar on your employee communication and produce measurable results so that you can grow and thrive.

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