If you deliver information security awareness activities to colleagues around the world, then you have probably encountered cultural issues at some point.

With a bit of luck this will just be limited to what sandwiches to order for lunch and whether to shake hands or give a kiss on the cheek. Pro tip: keep your hands and lips in a holding pattern until the other person makes the first move.

However, it is more likely that failing to grasp the importance of cultural differences could see your security awareness communication campaign sink beneath the waves of indifference or, even worse, into confrontation. So how can you make it sail smoothly on the Sea of Good Communications instead?

The Type of Communication

It may feel natural to you to deliver your content in a certain format. Maybe you are used to sending emails, calling workshops or even making cool infographics.

These are all valid options but will everyone in the company appreciate and understand them all in the same way? Some cultures have a preference for sharing information on a face to face basis, while others will lean towards formal written messages.

High context cultures are those that prefer face to face meetings and these typically include Asian, African and Arab nations. The likes of Germans, Brits and Australians will typically be more comfortable with written information and electronic delivery as well as face to face training

The Tone of Voice That You Use

Using the same tone of voice for every single part of the company that you deal with isn’t likely to be a very successful move. This is mainly because some cultures will infer more from a tone of voice than others.

In this case, the likes of Latin American and Mediterranean countries tend to use facial expressions and tone of voice to support getting their meaning across. Being able to translate word for word isn’t enough;, you have got to be able to raead what is said “between the lines” hence the name “High Context” languages. Just watch an Argentine or Italian football game and you will quickly realise that a good vocabulary isn’t necessary to tell your rival that his parents may not be the paragons of virtue that he believes them to be.

On the other hand, Northern European and North American countries are more likely to explicitly state the meaning of what they are saying, which strips away some of the importance of the tone of voice. If your audience is from these cultures they will focus on the words above all else.  

The Power Distance Issue

Power distance is an interesting concept that you might not have come across before. Basically, it is the level at which the lower ranking people in a culture conform to the idea that they are further down the food chain.

With countries where the power distance is lower people will automatically look for a more equal distribution of power and may be less likely to accept being told what to do without some sort of justification. The Nordic countries, Germany and the UK all fall into this category. This knowledge should influence how you develop communication initiatives to raise security awareness and influence behaviour.

At the opposite end of the scale, some of the countries with a high power distance rating include France, Malaysia and Arab countries. In these cultures it is expected that someone with power and authority will make decisions on behalf of others and then tell them about it.

The Relevance of Pop Culture Examples

Sometimes you might come across the perfect pop culture reference to explain an information security issue. Maybe it is exactly like the time one of your favourite TV characters did something silly or made a memorable joke.

This is a fantastic, light-hearted way of very easily making a point to someone from your own culture and with the same pop culture background. However, someone from Thailand, Bulgaria or Paraguay will probably completely miss your clever reference to culture or, even worse, they may take offence at being made to look or feel less well informed. funny people you are talking about

Unless you plan to sit through things like old Mexican episodes of El Chavo del Ocho and classic Spanish programmes such as Verano Azul (and this is something that we definitely discourage for the sake of your sanity) then you should cut out pop culture references altogether.

The Concept of Personal and Team Responsibility

Finally, there is also a wide variance across the world in terms of how people view their personal and team responsibilities. In fact, this is viewed by many people as being the biggest single cultural difference to take into account in a business setting.

Broadly speaking, we can say that individualistic cultures are those that emphasise the importance of each person, and include Northern Europe and the US. People here are largely motivated by their own personal goals, dreams and fears. You can expect them to maybe show more initiative.

Perhaps the classic example of a group based culture comes from Japan, although other good examples are found across Asia, Africa and South America. In this case, you can expect your colleagues to look for success on a group basis and to feel a high degree of loyalty and responsibility for the team.

Before launching your information security culture campaign it is well worth taking some time to think about the different cultures and countries you are covering. Can you cover them all in one way or do you need to tailor your message and presentation on a local basis?

Here at Marmalade Box, we can help. Why not find out more and then contact us.