Recognizing and respecting cross-cultural communication differences and finding opportunities to improve communication in a way that allows such differences to coexist may enhance the efficiency of global payroll processing, payroll leaders said May 16.

When a payroll professional from one country seeks to coordinate payroll processing with a colleague or third-party provider from another country that has different cultural norms regarding communication, “it’s always important to be upfront about difficulties in communication,” said Jason Low, head of the Association for Payroll Specialists in Australia. “It’s important that we really understand what each other is saying because we don’t want to make mistakes in the payroll.”

Regarding verbal communication, “it’s very important when dealing with our international colleagues that we speak slowly and clearly, that we exercise patience while trying to understand one another, and that we avoid slang,” Low said at the American Payroll Association’s Annual Congress in Long Beach, Calif.

Speaking too loudly may be perceived as offensive in some cultures, Low said. Additionally, when one encounters written words in another language, the sophistication of translation systems such as Google Translate can greatly assist with comprehension, he said.

“The handshake is one of the most globally recognized ways of greeting,” in terms of nonverbal communication, but the person with whom one is communicating may recognize a different form of nonverbal greeting as a cultural norm, and understanding this is important, said Tim Kelsey, owner of Kelsey’s Payroll Services. “Some cultures prefer a bow instead of a handshake, and the lower the bow, the more respect you’re showing.”

Handshakes are common, but cultural differences also exist with regard to the appropriate firmness and length of a handshake greeting, Kelsey said. For example, a firm grip is common for handshakes in the U.S., but some cultures may perceive such firmness as inauspiciously aggressive, and in Turkey, handshakes often last longer than they do in the U.S., he said.

“Wherever you’re working in the world, a smile and a laugh will get you through in most situations,” Kelsey said.