Five principles for business women crossing cultures
August 2018
In everyday language, we use the term business culture or business etiquette to describe the way in which business individuals or groups act in a business setting. While cultural awareness is important for everyone, a woman in business often face various social or religious customs affecting females, and they often confront prejudices and stereotypes in many societies. Sharing from personal experience these cultural challenges are often experienced on business trips overseas.

Apart from managing my UK based multicultural teams, we were required to travel abroad more than usual in the last 12 months, which for me means, business trips to countries other than Poland or England.
Recently, I have travelled on business from the UK to Romania, Switzerland and Ukraine.

Flying from London Luton to Bucharest, we visited Romania in February accompanied by my business partner, Neil. We were meeting with a global marketing business and Neil had meetings scheduled with his partners.Soon after we met my clients in the hotel lounge, it became obvious that before we enter the meeting room, we must change our approach and call Neil to join us. His presence during the negotiations with the two male Romanian business counterparts was invaluable.

Lesson learnt from that situation was to research the background of the Romanian business partners we were meeting, which would not only help me to establish their expertise and possible personalities but also help to build rapport from the start as well as be prepared for my male business partner to be fully involved.

We travelled to Switzerland in April, to meet our potential suppliers. Prior to my trip we were well aware of German-speaking, French-speaking and Italian-speaking areas and since we were visiting Zurich in northern Switzerland we had all the appointments booked and confirmed well in advance allowing plenty of time in between to ensure we arrived at least 10 minutes ahead of time and wait at the reception area, as being late would be considered very rude which I believe was greatly important, especially in the German-speaking areas.

In Zurich, we met my Swiss friend, Agata, for “Zmittag” (lunch) so that we were culturally well briefed for “Znacht” (the evening meal) with my potential suppliers later that day. Advice received from Agata summaries below:
•    Swiss business relationships vary between cantons. For example, German-speaking Swiss like to get straight down to business and dispense with niceties, whereas French and Italian-speaking Swiss allow for more small talk and preamble to business.
•    Be aware of your body posture ensuring you do not slouch or stretch in public and remember to control hand movements reducing them to zero – Agata knew I like to gesticulate a lot as I speak.
Agata also suggested that I let my Swiss colleagues pay for the meal since the Swiss are traditional and not only I was meeting a man but also, we were their guest. I also let her pay for my lunch as we were paying for the meals when she visited us in London.

In Switzerland, professionalism is paramount, even outside the workplace and although the hospitality and atmosphere outside business meetings were fantastic throughout the three days, we were very much aware during lunches, dinners and even in the evening out at a bar that we are all still representing our companies.

In May, we took a flight from London Stanstead to Lublin in Poland where I met Alina, my Ukrainian guide – and we travelled by bus for about two hours to Kovel in Ukraine. My sister insisted that I meet Alina in Poland talk to her on the way and enter Ukraine with her. Thankfully, I took the advice and the support from someone local and trusted allowed me to get a much better feel for the country before crossing the border, at the border and later - in the hotel and during business meetings.

In some hierarchal cultures, like Ukrainian, where age dictates status, younger women often have to prove their credibility, for a start, for example, highlighting any part of their backgrounds that allows local staff to trust their expertise.

The people we were meeting were all fluent in English, taxi drivers and waitresses spoke Russian. Being able to speak Russian and having Alina who took care of me during the two-day business trip, helped us greatly in Ukraine. It was also important to have business cards in English and Russian clearly stating my degrees and my title.

Observe and value diverse cultures like you observe and respect different personality types and apply these FIVE PRINCIPLES FOR BUSINESSWOMEN CROSSING CULTURES:

Understand that you are a guest in a foreign country and demonstrate that you are prepared to wait patiently or arrive earlier, if necessary.
Especially when it comes to dress code, dressing more conservatively and observing local businesswoman and trends will help to blend in with the local business dress protocol.
Pre-book meetings and last-minutes alternatives in case your meeting gets cancelled or rescheduled. Stay positive, focused on your business goals and make most of the time either by gaining new contacts, experience or winning business.
Whenever possible ask your employer or business partner to travel with you or ask for a trusted person for example your interpreters for full availability and support at the location.
Learn what you can from other business people who have been in places you are planning to visit.
In everyday business, we chose to adopt a positive attitude. although often stressed I say to myself this will be an excellent opportunity to either close the deal and grow my business or gain experience and grow myself. Likewise, your positive approach will help you to establish and maintain a healthy relationship with other like-minded foreign business partners and achieve your business goals.
Be prepared and aware of cultural and language barriers, stay positive and be a great businesswoman crossing cultures and closing deals!
About the Author
Founder and Managing Director of PAB Languages Centre and Sema4 Packages for exporting businesses. Iwona Lebiedowicz is passionate about business and personal growth with over fifteen years' experience in senior leadership positions in public and private sector organisations leading large multinational teams and successfully managing large-scale change projects.

Iwona can be contacted via an email  or LinkedIn


Associations of red colour in various cultures -
How important is it for firms trying to sell overseas to understand different cultures?
May 2018
When working in the global commercial environment, knowledge of the impact of cultural differences is one of the keys to international business success. We have been working with clients locally, nationally and internationally helping them to understand the different cultures they work with.

When investment is agreed to produce glossy brochures, posters or giveaways for a trade visit abroad, we suggest to our clients that before preparing any marketing materials they consider the importance of associations of red colour in various cultures. The choice of colours or graphics for a background can send very different messages out to the end-user.

Colours can symbolise a rite of passage, differentiate a premium from a discount brand, and distinguish between fun and serious, young and old, male and female. A single colour can have many different meanings in different cultures. For example, a red colour in Asia represents celebration, luck and marriage. In the majority of cases, a Chinese or Indian bride will wear a red dress, not white like in the West.
In the UK, red is perceived as a symbol of power, authority, government, visibility, temper for example mailboxes, red hair, buses and telephone booths.   

Red will symbolise fire in the Western cultures, and in the US and Europe, the same colour may be seen as a symbol for danger (STOP signs) or emergency (fire engines) as it seems to catch people’s attention the best. A football player will be shown a red card when he is disqualified from playing.

In Scandinavia, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland - red is associated with strength.
The colour red has, however, other associations; as a symbol of sin (The Bible, The Scarlet Letter). This association came from Hebrew via Christianity, where the colour tended to be associated with blood, murder and guilt. For instance the expression ‘to be caught red-handed’. Another Christian association of red is anger or wrath, hence red images of Satan.

Red is found in flags of many nations, where it symbolises blood as courage and sacrifice. In ancient Rome, a victorious general had his body painted red as red was the colour of Mars – the god of war. The war symbolism of red has been preserved in some parts of Africa. In Africa, it can also signify illness and death, and The Red Cross had to change its symbol from red to green and white in some parts of Africa.
This short analysis of associations of red colour in various cultures shows just how colour can be a critical factor in communication with various cultures across borders.

Our SEMA4 packages make international business much easier by resolving different language and cultural challenges experienced by exports expanding abroad, well established abroad, cooperating with international partners, employing multi-national workers or outsourcing any of the above. To find out more please visit
Board meetings and multicultural management at multinational company.
June 2018
Often during my cross-cultural seminars, I am asked to provide simple rules or tips to communicate better with diverse teams.

Apart from delivering cross-cultural seminars, I spent the past fifteen years, consulting on recruitment and management, cross-cultural business awareness, talent retention as well as managing diversity and communication.

We have recently reviewed our business strategy and goals, acknowledging that these cannot be successfully achieved without a strong team and shared the ethos. Communicating these effectively throughout the business can be challenging. However, it is crucial for successful implementation and execution of any strategy.

Our senior management degree educated team are highly proficient in spoken and written English, consist of colleagues from England and those born and raised in Ireland, Poland, Latvia, China and Russia and some of these are qualified linguists. Having said that, my challenge was to:
•   communicate clearly the different features in our company's strategy
•   address any concerns in the room
•   ensure understanding of the key priorities and actions.

We had to understand and become crystal clear about who are we? Where are we now? Where are we going? How are we going to get there?
I planned to gain greater consciousness and improved communication through:
1.   starting with a clear and simple statement of what is to be expected because of that meeting,
2.   empathy and supportive behaviour during the meeting,
3.   being sensitive and respectful,
4.   listen to and respect what has been shared,
5.   maintaining the atmosphere of trust, respect and cooperation throughout the meeting,
6.   adequate to the stage of the meeting and the situation questions related mainly to exploring alternative viewpoints that could highlight any blockers about this plan,
7.   using clear and precise words and pausing before and after significant concepts, believing that pausing – it can work wonders,
8.   inviting the board to rephrase what they think they understood from what I said, as what they understood may not be what I meant to communicate,
9.   concluding with clearly and concisely identified key points and actions that were minuted and distributed to all relevant stakeholders.

I started the meeting with clarifying the purpose of the meeting and desired outcome, using some metaphors, which is very helpful with any audience, provided that these metaphors are adequately preselected for the particular audience.
The board was energised with my introduction and excited for the next stages of the meeting.
I praised and congratulated the team at PAB Languages for our major accomplishments, and referred to their ongoing dedication to our ethos highlighting our business culture and values of trust, respect and cooperation.
The results of that behaviour showed I set the right tone for the meeting and the board felt valued and recognised and was reminded of their skills, abilities and actions that lead to the success.
Next, we moved to the business strategy presentation ensuring that each stage of the presentation had the appropriate meaning and those particular word choices being used to eliminate ambiguity.
Because of the clarity of language and behaviour, the board were accurately informed about our business strategy and were able to make suitable plans for the next 12 months.
Managers refreshed their understanding of the company’s purpose and values and could articulate the company direction. They have gained a greater understanding of:
• Where the business was going
• What the important priorities and challenges were
• How their roles fit into that strategy

Fostering open communication, I encouraged the board to ask questions aiming to identify potential blockers and risks. The board was also debating about benefits of empowering their teams and staff and how they can be supported in delivering their parts of the strategy. I encouraged the use of concise and clean language. Open communication and honest behaviour helped the board to formulate several critical conclusions and to agree on the key steps forward.
The meeting was closed to the overall atmosphere of excitement and the feedback that I received made me confident that our desired outcome was achieved. The managers will continue to have additional meetings with their teams with the aim to communicate and clarify the key priorities and agree on actions.
I trust these few examples of effective communication rules I applied, and shared above can be useful to you everywhere and in most business meetings.
Iwona Lebiedowicz Consultancy works closely with companies across the UK helping them to gain a better understanding of cultural awareness and effective engagement when dealing with clients, associates and their diverse workforce.
Depending on your needs you’ll receive a tailored service: whether you need a crisp 10-minute speech or a full day workshop.


Telephone: (Boston) 01205 310 004  (Colchester) 01206 573 777