Words apart: mastering cross-cultural investor relations

Cross-cultural investor relations: two women shouting

Translating a Spanish document into English typically reduces its length by around 15 percent. As a language, English tends to be more direct; Spanish more complex. It’s just the way of the words.

We accept this when we look at written documents, but how often do we think about it when we speak in cross-cultural business meetings?

As a Latin American Investor Relations professional talking to US investors, are you thinking about brevity, directness and simplicity in the way you run your meeting? If not, your message may be getting lost in translation.


Business conversation styles vary around the world. All are equal when you’re in your home market, but cross your continental border and they start to matter an awful lot.

Differences in communication style tend to manifest in two main ways:

  • Delivery. This is how you come across: the things you say, the impact you have, your pace, tone and language.
  • Structure. This is what you say and the order in which you say it. It’s the difference between jumping straight into why you are there and what you want and leaving that for the end of the meeting after discussing every detail.


Cross-cultural communications expert, Richard D. Lewis, categorizes such differences in style into three distinct types: linear-active, multi-active and reactive. He classes US culture as linear-active and Latin Americans as mainly multi-active.

Linear-active cultures tend to be dominated by timetables, are focused on data, prefer brevity and rarely interrupt. Multi-active cultures, on the other hand, aren’t so worried about punctuality. They are dialogue and people orientated and much more talkative.

This is clearly reflected in their business-communication styles:

  • Focus. Latin Americans have a lengthy way of explaining things, which can come across as ambiguous. Their conversations also include a strong social component, which sits in contrast to the US preference for lean, focused dialogue.
  • Agendas. In the US, fixed agendas are preferred. Unsurprisingly, agendas are less common in Latin America and, when present, are followed less rigidly than in the US.
  • Directness. In the US people use direct, blunt and sometimes more assertive language that in Latin America could be considered rude. They also tend to give a lot less time to small talk than in Latin America.
  • Specificity. In the US there is a focus on content – data, facts, information – which leads to much more explicit conversations.


In order to bridge this communication gap, and make sure your cross-cultural investor relations flourish, be sure to follow these six practical tips in your next intercontinental meeting:

  1. Blend both cultures. Engage in some small talk at first to put both parties at ease, but don’t overdo it.
  2. Have an agenda. Draft it in advance, share it verbally and stick to it (as much as you can).
  3. Get to the point. Once into the substantive part of the meeting, start with what you are there to discuss and what you are trying to accomplish.
  4. Be concise. If the meeting is set for one hour, try to wrap up before the hour is over.
  5. Be selective. Don’t cover every single point there is to talk about; leave something to be discussed during the meeting to encourage dialogue.
  6. Be considerate. If you have heavily accented English, moderate your pace and check in that your counterparty is following you.

Adopting a foreign spoken communication style may feel uncomfortable, wherever you’re from, but it’s important. As the famous American, Benjamin Franklin, once said, ‘time is money’, and if you want someone’s money you have to respect how you use their time.

This article first appeared in Investor Relations (IR) Magazine.

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