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E-mail Etiquette Goes Global

In International business, electronic communication can send the wrong message.

View this article on line South Carolina Business Journal on line Edition

By Cynthia Grosso

Email is a convenient and effective form of communication for business. However, we are in an era where email has invaded the office enSave Documentvironment and has begun a fast and furious spread of an epidemic of non-personal communication/interaction.


In the international business arena however, with this form of communication, you can send the wrong message, without even realizing what you have done. When you do that….it doesn’t matter how efficient or expedient this form of communication is…. you probably will not be doing business with that client. 


Studies indicate that 70% of Americans doing business internationally fail.  This staggering statistic leaves many American business people scratching their heads wondering what went wrong in the process. 


Correct writing of an email for international business is essential.  Here are six etiquette tips to help in writing emails with international destinations.


- When addressing an email, use titles and/or honorifics plus surnames.  That is Mr., Mrs., Miss, Dr., etc. Rank and status in international business is very important. If the person has a title, make sure you address him or her using it correctly. Do not use a person’s first name. International business is typically more formal than national business and you do not want to get off on the wrong foot right from the start. Make sure you use the correct honorifics, like Madam, Herr, Senior, etc.


- Do make small talk.  Take the time and make the effort to be a little more personable.  In America we tend to do business as ready, aim, fire….however the rest of the world is characteristically not like that. Others like to know something about whom they are doing business with. This is because many times an international client is a client for life. Start with a statement of appreciation. Write about how you enjoyed meeting them and visiting their country and how much you appreciate them.   This kind of small talk is an important component of international business correspondence.


-  Be careful about writing dates.  3/11/03 is not March 11, 2003…it is November 3rd 2003.  So when you write a date, it is best written in full as March 11, 2003.


- When writing time, be sure to write and state whose time zone you are referring.  If you set a conference call for 3:00pm, clarify which time zone. Also be aware that many countries use what we know as military time.


- Be careful not to use humor in writing emails.  What is considered humor varies greatly around the world and what is funny to you often times is not funny or misunderstood by the person you may be corresponding with.


- When writing an email, be careful not to use slang terms or phrases…the words “It has been raining cats and dogs here” will not be understood by most of the people you send it to.  Do not use big words, but rather, simple correct English grammar with correct punctuation.


International emails may be more successful after a personal meeting with the recipient. Although email may be a preferred form of communication, communicating in person is crucial because it allows people to understand each other more clearly, which helps in getting along better. It also helps to more accurately understand the plans and goals of your relationship with your client, thus enabling the job to be done more triumphantly.



Source: Article published in the South Carolina Business Journal

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