New Business Writing Book Reveals the U.S. Idiom That Most Often Derails International Business Rapport

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"Business Writing With Heart" author Lynn Gaertner-Johnston labels “bang for your buck” the U.S. idiom that most often upsets cross-cultural business communications, and she suggests ways to communicate safely across cultures.

Business Writing With Heart: How to Build Great Work Relationships One Message at a Time

New book on business relationships, "Business Writing With Heart"

Know your audience. Don’t expect readers in the Middle East and Africa to recognize or care about the breed of your puppy.

With today’s diverse workforce and the steep rise in business globalization comes an increased opportunity for serious misunderstandings. In a survey of 686 Americans conducted by the business writing training company Syntax Training, 43 percent of women and 64 percent of men said they had experienced a serious miscommunication at work with someone from another culture or country.

Syntax Training founder Lynn Gaertner-Johnston offers guidance for navigating linguistic and cultural barriers at work in her new book, "Business Writing With Heart: How to Build Great Work Relationships One Message at a Time."

“Choices you make in your business writing can induce smiles or scowls,” says Gaertner-Johnston. “For instance, you can win smiles by avoiding American slang that is not understood globally or is widely misconstrued. Judging from my training sessions, discussions with clients and comments on my blog, the most troublesome American expression in international business is ‘bang for your buck.’ Someone who used it at a business meeting in France saw the whole room shrink from him in disgust, probably because of vulgar associations with the word ‘bang.’ He would have been better off saying ‘return on investment’ instead.”

In "Business Writing With Heart," Gaertner-Johnston’s suggestions to avoid damaging incidents in international business miscommunication include:

  •     Use plain English words that are most likely part of your readers’ vocabulary. For example, use "hesitate" rather than "dillydally."
  •     Write short, clear sentences rather than long, complex ones.
  •     Avoid slang such as “lose our shirts” and figurative language from sports and the military.
  •     Know your audience. Don’t expect readers from the Middle East to recognize or care about the breed of your puppy.
  •     Build bridges by learning what is happening in your readers’ countries.

“Express curiosity and respect in dealing with those from other cultures instead of going in with your standard approaches,” Gaertner-Johnston adds. “This tip applies to people from other cultures who are on the other side of the globe or in the cubicle next to yours. When you learn how others are the same and yet different from you, you can create good business relationships."

"Business Writing With Heart: How to Build Great Work Relationships One Message at a Time" provides wide-ranging tips on business communication challenges, from requesting job-search help to expressing condolences, from providing constructive feedback to firmly turning down requests. The paperback (ISBN 978-0-9778679-0-5) costs $24.95 and is available through booksellers and Syntax Training. The e-book version (978-0-9778679-1-2) costs $9.99 at Amazon and Barnes & Noble online stores.

About Lynn Gaertner-Johnston
A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Chicago Tribune" and other media. As co-owner of the business writing training company Syntax Training in Seattle, Washington, she has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations, including Microsoft, Lockheed Martin, Nintendo, REI, AARP and Kaiser Permanente. She has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell.

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