Don't Send The Wrong Message
When e-mail crosses borders, a faux pas could be just a click away. Here's how to avoid international inbox offenses.
By Nick Easen

(Business 2.0) – E-mail can link co-workers across continents, but it can just as easily divide them if cultural differences aren't taken into account. Think about how your words will hit their readers before you hit "Send." Some pointers:

Couch Your Questions Carefully When a junior manager in Thomson Financial's London office e-mailed a question to a colleague at the research firm's Manila bureau, he had no idea he'd cause a commotion. But his straightforward inquiry--Were the deal numbers checked against the source?--struck Kai Soriano-SantaCruz as a slap in the face. In the Philippines, where directness is perceived as brusqueness, the Londoner's question read like an accusation. Dumbfounded, Soriano-SantaCruz grabbed an officemate to help her figure out how to respond: "Should we be defensive, or just ignore it and check the deal?"

Expect All Communication to Be Broadcast In the States, forwarding a one-on-one e-mail is a breach of etiquette, but in group-focused cultures like China and India, where building consensus requires keeping everyone in the loop, it's expected. John Sigalos, an executive in PepsiCo's Asian operations, learned this the hard way when, after days of e-mailing back and forth with his team in mainland China about a juice shortage, he sent a private note to the Shanghai sales manager asking him to identify the cause. The manager copied his response to the entire team. Says Sigalos, "I felt singled out as a finger-pointing American."

Adjust Your Speed Not all cultures move on Internet tie. David Solomons, CEO of Culture Shock Consulting, says his multinational clients--a list that includes the likes of Amazon.com, Kimberly-Clark, and Visa--often make the mistake of pressing Indian IT contractors for an instant answer by e-mail. In India, the culture's strong sense of hierarchy means that a reply will probably require extended consultation with superiors. Demanding a fast response from a contractor in Bangalore--or just about anywhere in South Asia, Latin America, or the Middle East--can alienate the very people you need to help you, resulting in silence or false promises. -- NICK EASEN