Bridging the Gap: Understanding Cultural Differences

The Importance of Understanding Cultural Differences

By Andrew Woodcock, TVG Account Executive

There’s a phrase in Russian that closely corresponds to one in English: “mir tyesen.”  Word for word, this phrase means “the world is tight,” but the base meaning is closer to our phrase “it’s a small world.” Modern communication technology is bringing the world closer every day.

Today, it’s just as easy to talk to a colleague in China as it is to talk to a colleague who just left the office for lunch. However, that doesn’t mean that your interactions with the Chinese colleague should be the same as with your American colleague. Culture and national identity are alive and well, and should be taken into account whenever you interact with someone from a different background than your own.

Whether you’re traveling to a different country for business or have just hired a diverse team of skilled workers around the world, you must always be prepared to encounter and overcome cultural differences and language barriers. Here are a couple of tips on how to help bridge the gap between cultures and make for a more comfortable and diverse workplace environment.

Read up on the culture you’ll be encountering

Every country in the world, old or new, has a rich and storied history. They celebrate their own holidays, cook national dishes, listen to their own styles of music and wear clothes appropriate for their culture. Take some time to Google the history, art and customs of the country you’ll be visiting. Not only will it be personally enriching, but it will also give you a way to connect with the local people. Showing off your knowledge of the local customs and history will make those around you realize you truly care about their culture, and aren’t just visiting for business and cool Instagram photos.

Learn the language

Languages are hard to learn. You spent years in grade school learning all the grammar and intricacies of English. Why spend more time learning a whole new language – especially when so much of the world speaks English already? Well, the fact that almost everyone can already speak English makes learning a foreign language all the more impressive. Even if you can only recite a couple key phrases, it shows that you‘re making the effort to bridge the cultural gap. Rather than your colleague reaching out to you by speaking English, the two of you are meeting in the middle as equals.

Be patient

Unfortunately, no matter how much you research a country or how well you know the language, there will always be some culture shock and confusion. “False friends” may cause confusion and frustration. These are words that sound the same in two languages, but have different or even opposite meanings (for example, if you go to Russia and ask if there are any “preservatives” in your food, you’re asking if there are any contraceptives in it). Words, actions or gestures that are not offensive to us can be very offensive to someone from another culture, and vice versa. When this happens, it is important to stay patient and be accommodating. Working through these frustrations together will lead to a smarter and stronger bond between you and your colleagues.

Keep an open mind

When I learn a new language, or study the history of a culture I’m unfamiliar with, I think of it as exploring a new world. There are so many things that make each culture unique. You have to be open to trying and learning new things in order to work smoothly with a diverse team. Always try to think about how they see things from their perspective; doing so will give you insight on their corner of the world.

All of this being said, there are so many similarities between people of all nations. We all laugh at the same physical comedy, groan when we have to clean up our pets’ messes, and cry when we lose a loved one. After all, we are all human.


Andrew Woodcock is an account executive at The Vandiver Group in St. Louis, Missouri. Follow The Vandiver Group on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn and Instagram.

Messaging Applications: A New Era of Business Communications (Part 1)

Messaging Applications: A New Era of Business Communications (Part 1)

By Nate Shryock, TVG Manager of Digital Strategy

We’ve all had experiences with people who spend too much time on their phone. Family dinners, dates, Friday night outings… it is no secret that people are often preoccupied with their digital lives. As individuals, this is often extremely frustrating, but as a business this presents new opportunities.

Recently, messaging apps have had a meteoric rise in popularity. Take Snapchat for example. In 2013, Snapchat peaked at 5 million daily active users, and in three years increased to 100 million daily active users. By the next year, the “Big 4 Messaging Apps” (WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat and Viber) combined had the same number of monthly users as the “Big 4 Social Networks” (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram). In September 2016, Business Insider reported that messaging apps had taken over Social Networking apps in monthly active users.

Messaging apps are no longer just for personal communication, either. A Nielson study, commissioned by Facebook IQ in March of 2016, found that “over the next two years, 50% of people surveyed expect to use messaging apps more for communicating one-on-one” and 67% expect to use messaging apps more to communicate with businesses. Messaging also appeals across all generations. When asked whether they prefer messaging over a phone call or email, 65% of Millennials, 65% of Gen Xers, and 63% of Baby Boomers all preferred messaging.

So, what does this all mean for businesses? To answer this, we’ll explore how Facebook Messenger can work in a business setting.

Social Listening

It is important to listen to what your community is saying on social. Facebook offers a messenger inbox that allows you to monitor not only your direct messages, but comments and reviews on both Facebook and Instagram. A survey conducted by The Social Habit in 2016 states that “among respondents to The Social Habit who have ever attempted to contact a brand, product, or company through social media for customer support, 32% expect a response within 30 minutes. Further, 42% expect a response within 60 minutes,” making Messenger a vital part of the customer service strategy.

The inbox also allows you to respond to public comments and gives users the option to mark comments as “Done” or “Follow up” or they can assign them to another team member.

The Human Touch

According to David Marcus, Vice President of Messaging Products at Facebook, Facebook sees the use of Messenger by businesses as an avenue to add the human element back into web commerce. David states, “for so long, doing business was always conversational. Web (e-commerce) is truly an anomaly. It feels good to have a more human relationship when you’re buying things.”

In Part 2 of this blog series, we’ll focus on some best practices for businesses using Facebook Messenger.


What do you think? Do messaging apps create a sense of human interaction when purchasing products online? Comment or Tweet us @VandiverGroup and let us know how you use messaging apps to connect with customers. Need a social media strategy? Our social media team would love to help build a strategy for you. 

Think Typos Don’t Matter? Think Again.

Think Typos Don’t Matter? Think Again.

By Laura Vandiver, TVG Vice President of Research and Strategic Insight

I overheard a conversation the other day while working out at the gym. A woman I had seen there before – let’s call her Cindy – was telling someone about how she works in PR. Cindy was annoyed that her client called her, upset, because her name was misspelled in an article in the local business journal. “I have to tell people all the time that this is PR, not ER.” Cindy mused. “It’s not my emergency! A typo is not that big of a deal.” Oh, but it is Cindy.

Accuracy is extremely important in our field. Not only do we have to manage our clients’ reputations in the media, we also have to make sure the facts are correct and that we’re telling their story in a meaningful and impactful way. A single error could mean a devastating blow to a corporate reputation, and gives fodder to the rumor mill. And yes, typos matter. Especially when it’s your client’s name! Typos in your media releases indicate sloppy work. You always need to proofread your work before you submit it. Yes, an occasional error can happen – we are only human after all. But I’m talking about the errors that occur from just not caring very much about the ramifications of these seemingly small mistakes. You have to care. Our clients depend on us to care. And they deserve to have the highest quality work at all times.

How can you avoid these kinds of errors? Here are a few simple tips:

  1. Have a team of people who proofread documents before they go out the door. The more sets of eyes you have on that important release for a client, the better.
  2. Always use the spellcheck and grammar tools in your word processing program as another layer of protection.
  3. Sometimes it helps to print your document and read it on paper to catch errors. Computer screens make our eyes tired and less able to find simple errors.
  4. Try reading your document out loud. This can help you find errors in verb tense, especially, and it will help you decide if you are conveying the message you mean to convey.

Accuracy matters. Our clients depend on us to get it right. And when they look good, we know we’ve done the best job we can possibly do for them. It’s kind of a big deal!


TVG’s PR Pros are happy to help you proof-read and edit your documents! Call us at 314-991-4641, email us or drop us a line on Facebook.

College Athletes in the ‘Real World’: What Lacrosse Taught me about Work Ethic, Leadership and Accepting Challenges

College Athletes in the ‘Real World’

By Annie Spewak, TVG Intern

Up until a year ago, my life revolved around lacrosse. My dedication to the game often dictated everything I did from my social life to my class schedule, but it also earned me a scholarship to play Division I in college. Over the years, I’ve encountered people who think sports are rather useless; after all, most athletes will never go professional, and will never earn a paycheck playing the sport. Read more

The Reality of Crisis Communications

The Reality of Crisis Communications

By Andy Likes, TVG Vice President

Throughout my 20+ years in broadcast journalism and public relations, unfortunately I’ve seen my share of crisis issues. They happen every single day. I tell my crisis communications training classes that it’s not a matter of “if” a crisis happens, but “when.” Read more

Refocus at Work after Summer Vacation

Refocus at Work after Summer Vacation

By Laura Vandiver, TVG VP of Research and Strategic Insight

Ah, summertime…the magical few months when most Americans tend to travel and relax on family vacations. I just returned from a glorious week in the mountains of Colorado, but now it’s time to refocus on work and attack my to-do list. But what is the best way to do that? How can the transition back into “work mode” be made smoother? Here are a few tips I’ve been thinking about this week since my return.

1. Plan for your return before you leave

Yes, before. Most of us are very focused on getting things wrapped up and organized so we can leave for vacation with tasks/projects delegated and all of our emails answered. But some simple planning before you leave can make your transition from vacation a lot easier. For instance, block out your calendar for the day you return. Spending that first day in meetings doesn’t help you get caught up on what happened while you were away. Use the time to go through your emails, have catch-up chats with co-workers, and prioritize your tasks (see tip 2).

2. Prioritize your tasks

While you’re away, work life keeps churning on. It also means you were probably assigned some new tasks to complete upon your return. Identify your tasks – old and new – and get them on paper. Prioritize each task by the level of urgency and the deadline for completion. Put time on your calendar to work on these to get you back on track more quickly. And remember: client work almost always comes first!

3. Check-in with your co-workers

Having quick check-ins with your co-workers will help get you up-to-speed more quickly than trudging through a long thread of emails. Ask about the meetings you missed (and gather notes from those meetings, if possible), how your clients did while you were away, and if there is anything you delegated that did not get completed in your absence.

4. Limit your distractions

I know, it’s hard. You get back from vacation and you’re glued to your phone again. But at least for that first day back, try to limit distractions from your phone, social media, and anything else that beeps, has notification settings, or is likely to draw you into a black hole of unproductive behavior! Try to find a quiet space to work so you can make progress on your task list.

5. Take breaks

Getting back to work after vacation is a transition period. Sometimes it takes a few days to get back in the swing of things. Don’t be too hard on yourself! Be sure to take breaks during the day to take a walk, listen to music, or grab a snack – whatever will help your mind stay focused throughout the work day.

Vacation is a vital part of maintaining a good work/life balance. Don’t be afraid to take your vacation time because you’re worried about the pile of work when you return. With a little planning and some specific strategies, your transition back can be easier and more efficient. So go explore this summer!

Have you taken a great vacation this summer? Have upcoming plans? Tweet us @VandiverGroup, and tell us about it! We would love to hear your tips for making the vacation-to-work transition easier.

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Want to Understand Someone? Be a Better Listener!

How to Be a Better Listener

By Amy Crump, TVG CFO

“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.” – Jimi Hendrix

With so many things clamoring for our attention these days- technology, multitasking, social media and other distractions – it has become more difficult to be a good listener. Read more

Why a PR Pro Should Help You with Presentation Skills

Why a PR Pro Should Help You with Presentation Skills

By Laura Vandiver, TVG VP of Research & Strategic Insight

We’ve all been there. Your palms are sweaty, your mouth is dry. It’s that awkward moment before you begin a big presentation. Public speaking or making a presentation – whether to a large group or small – is consistently rated one of the top phobias among Americans, as well as other cultures around the world. But, fear not friends! There is hope – and it comes in the form of your local PR professional. Read more

Corporate Lingo: Don’t Let Buzzwords Dominate Your Vocabulary

Corporate Lingo

By Laura Vandiver, TVG VP of Research & Strategic Insight

As an anthropologist, I am often keenly aware not only of how people behave in various situations, but what they say. Different social groups often have very specific linguistic styles. For instance, take my triathlon club. Unless you are actively training for a triathlon, you probably have no idea what terms like FTP, power meter, pull buoy, bonk, brick, long course, taper or transition mean. Read more

Top 10 Reasons Introverts Like Cats

Top 10 Reasons Introverts Like Cats

By Patty Olsen, TVG Senior Project Manager

I was thinking recently about my introverted tendencies, and how my cat truly understands them. Cats have a range of interesting behaviors that are appealing to introverts. Read more