Fiverr Community Forum

How to communicate across cultures and countries when doing business on Fiverr

During my career, I have communicated with people from many walks of life, from many different cultures and parts of the world. Especially as a freelancer, you have to communicate with people from the opposite side of the world frequently.

This isn’t meant as a definitive guide on this by any means, so please, if you wish to become better at communicating with people from other cultures, educate yourselves beyond this forum.

In this post, I’ll simply try to lay forth some examples, and explain how you can avoid coming across as rude and disrespectful, and how to be more helpful to your buyer or seller.

Grammar
First off - let’s start with the grammar. I’ve made a post on this before (Why grammar is super important for us sellers ), so I won’t go too deep into the matter here, but simply put: learn how to write properly.

You don’t have to become fluent to write better content, messages, replies, or posts. But using tools such as Grammarly to correct spelling, and taking a course in whatever language you need to become better at, will help you in your communications with others.

How to address people
This comes up often on the forums. Many individuals from different parts of the world will use “dear”, “darling”, “bro”, etc. This is something you should avoid in all business matters.

It is way too intimate for people from the west, who would only use these salutations when talking to people close to them. If you are my designer, that does not make you my mom, or best friend. What you may consider polite, might be perceived by the recipient as being “fake”, or too intimate. In a professional setting, you should stick to names only.

Example:
“Hello dear,
I will design your logo.”

This might seem appropriate to some cultures, while it will seem inappropriate elsewhere. in contrast, “Hello, [name]” should be acceptable in almost any culture.

Simplify and communicate clearly
When communicating, try to not overcomplicate anything, by asking clear questions, and providing clear answers.

Always assume they mean well
Ok, so I’m a Norwegian native, working with clients from Spain, the UK, US, Germany, Norway, Brazil, Indonesia, China… The list goes on. I can’t possibly be an expert in the culture of all these countries, right? However, what I can do is letting go of my prejudice.

If I get a buyer from a different culture, and I notice this individual is communicating in a certain way that I might find rude, I always assume the intentions are good, and that they mean well.

When I stop for a second and think about a message that might come across as rude in my eyes, with the starting-point that they mean well, I can avoid difficult situations and misunderstandings.

I hope this helps anyone who is communicating across cultures to improve and enjoy working as a freelancer even more.

And I’m sure many on the forums have plenty to add to this!

//Leo

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I agree with all these points but I do also think there’s a case for people buying services from people from another culture then perhaps they can allow for grammar errors, a few mistakes and perhaps even addressing me in a way I wish a partner would.

I mean what is the reason a buyer would choose to hire someone from far away? Price is generally the main reason and there is usually quite a substantial price difference. Expecting a high level of English along with the highest of standards of whatever the gig actually entails along with a low-low price is pretty demanding.

Buyers can help by:

  • using short sentences
  • staying away from colloquialisms and uncommon English words
  • using bullet points for specific instructions.
  • setting the seller at ease from the start; I’ve had so many sellers who seemed terrified of saying they didn’t understand something.
  • making sure that questions are allowed/encouraged

I firmly believe that partnerships work better than dictation so take that approach and ensure that the seller looks forward to working with you next time.

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Why only some people need to change? Why not the ones that get uncomfortable with words like dear, bro, darling figure out that where the seller is coming from, this is a form a respect and they should not feel uncomfortable in any way after all?
It’s a simple form of respect coming from a different part of the world and it never bothered me, even if I am from Romania and we don’t talk like that. A lot of them call you sir, or madam. It’s weird, sometimes funny, but I never feel offended because I know the meaning of it, coming from them.
Also, grammar is not really that important. Basic English and having a good knowledge of word meaning is what a seller need for jobs like animations, logos, anything that doesn’t include proofreading, writing for someone in English. If I need a logo and I want a red bird and the name Blue Bird…if they understand what I said, they can make a logo just as good as I can. There are a lot of professional graphic designers that can’t speak proper English, but they are BEASTS in graphic design.

A buyer should try harder to work with people who don’t speak English very well, not decide the job is going to suck after the first 2 sentences. Make sure he understands what you need, ask him to give you an update on the job and see if he did actually understand what he needs and they might provide good quality. Just give them a break, let them call you sir, bro, madame, darling, dear…(maybe not bro). It’s fine. It’s totally fine.

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If people want to show respect, they should do something that their recipient would find respectful. If the sender’s goal is to be helpful, it isn’t about what the sender wants to do. I hate being called ma’am and I don’t have to be okay being called that. Also, if you want me to do business with you again, why do something I don’t like?

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If you tell him not to call you that because it bothers you and he continues to do that, than yes, it’s not right. But if you just get annoyed he/she does that and decide not to work with them because of it, it’s not OK. They did nothing wrong, it’s just something that bothers “some” people and they have no idea you are one of those people :slight_smile:

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That is exactly why you shouldn’t do it: you don’t know who doesn’t like it. It isn’t about what the seller wants to do and you don’t know what the recipient wants, so just don’t do it.

I don’t want to hear it once and then have to tell the person. If I don’t like something as a buyer I won’t return for it. Why take that risk, as a seller?

In customer service, it isn’t about what the rep wants to do. It is about what the customer expects and wants.

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Well, it seems to me you create a barrier just because you don’t like how they use some words. They are not disrespectful in any way, they mean well. So you are not looking for a professional to do a job, you want someone you like :slight_smile: Doesn’t matter he does the perfect animation, I’ll just take a crappier animation, but at least he doesn’t call me ma`am :slight_smile:
A customer can leave and go buy less for more from someone else if he doesn’t like the words I use to treat people with respect :slight_smile:

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I don’t create a barrier. This is basic customer service. You don’t alienate your customer. You do what your customer wants, not what you want.

If you want to alienate customers and lose business because you want to call people something that a lot of people dont like, good luck with your business.

Don’t make judgments about me. I’m telling you how it is. If you don’t like, it fine, but don’t make judgments on me.

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Is the word used much in Canada? I don’t hear it much in England. The only places I hear it used regularly are in the Southern US states, like Tennessee.

But Fiverr is so competitive now. You’ve a great chance of finding a “respectful” seller (subjective, I know) who is also talented.

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If some woman from Bangladesh buys one of your gigs, do you call her maam? If this is what respects means from her, are you going to respect her, or just be rude and call her by her name? :slight_smile: Would you change your words based on that? If their culture requires you to call her maam, will you call her ma`am in order to be respectful?

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We use ma’am only in the context of servitude, not in business.

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I use language everyone finds respectful. I am neutral.

As I said, you don’t know what the recipient wants, so that is why it is important to be neutral. Then you don’t have to worry about it.

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I think this shows the advantage of following the OPs advice. Some buyers want to be addressed in a certain way whereas others don’t mind.
By following the OPs advice you can keep both types of buyers.

Funny enough, I have been called “Mr Eoin” by sellers from the US, Northern and Central Africa, Eastern Europe and various parts of Asia. Where I am from, nobody would ever call me that. I don’t mind it personally but could understand if someone didn’t like it.
I take it as an attempt to be respectful and would generally say “just Eoin is fine” unless it’s a quick job and there is no ongoing relationship.
Chances are that parents or teachers will have spent a long time drumming this way of greeting people into their heads so I’m not going to try change them too much for my $10 order every now and then.

Well worth remembering that people are different and so going neutral or on the safe side is better.

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Interesting perspective.

My argument for why you should not use terms like “dear”, beyond what previously mentioned, is this: in a professional setting, you should strive to achieve the highest level of professionality possible.

That includes addressing people in a business-like way. With that being said, I also mentioned in my last point, letting go of your prejudice. This is what you’re talking about. Accepting that other people come from different cultures, and always assuming that people mean well, is just as important. This is why I’m not assuming that you’re rude just because you use “dear”. I assume you mean well - even though it makes me feel uncomfortable.

BUT, and there is a big BUT here: you, as a designer, coming from a culture where that is a sign of respect, are communicating with clients who see this as uncomfortable. And who pays your bills? That very person. Should you not strive to achieve a level of communication that your client feels comfortable with?

If my client comes from a culture where it’s polite to address them as “sir” or “ma’am”, I’ll try to do exactly that, because this is polite in their culture. It doesn’t matter as much that in my country, this would come across as weird, or forced. I will always try to achieve a level of communication where the client is in focus, not me.

I hope that answers your question.

You say grammar isn’t important. What?

You think coming across as unprofessional is ok? First impressions matter, a lot.

Coming across as uneducated in your communication is a poor presentation of your skills. It doesn’t mean you have to become fluent in English, but going that extra mile to communicate is important. It will make you stand out in the crowd.

Why should a buyer try harder to work with someone who communicates poorly? If I want a logo designed, I want a designer who understands my messages, replies with confidence and can understand nuances and guidelines with ease.

If I’m gonna spend my money on a service, I want to be assured that the job is in safe hands. If the sellers English is just basic, using slang, etc. that does not impress me, or other buyers. And as both a buyer and a seller here on Fiverr, I’m telling you this: grammar does matter. A lot. Do you have to become an English professor to sell your logo designs? Of course not. But improving your skills, showing the client that you can communicate is something I consider the bare minimum when you provide a service on an international marketplace.

Do I get offended if someone calls me “bro”, “dear” etc? Of course not. Do I get offended if a seller has bad grammar? Nope. But it is very likely I’ll move on to someone who makes a better first impression.

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But the best advice is to stay neutral. I never heard of anyone feeling uncomfortable with “Hi [name]” yet the term “dear” seems to be used a lot. Why not use a term that is acceptable everywhere - the persons name? Most of my messages here on Fiverr starts with “Hi, username”. That is safe, professional, and not based on any culture.

Once, I actually had a buyer who required to be addessed as ma’am. It wasn’t optional. I received something like this from the lady in question:

“I expect to be addressed as ma’am in any further communication. I’m paying you for a service, and that service should include an ounce of respect.”

I laughed, hard. But the woman now has a note in my inbox, as she is a regular client, to be addressed as ma’am. I don’t dare not to. :joy:

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By that logic, I should demand to know my every buyer father’s name to use patronymics because this is how you show respect when addressing people in my culture. And culturally, using patronymics would make sense to me the most.

It’s an international platform and there are ways to conduct oneself in a way that won’t confuse (and occasionally creep out) potential buyers and sellers.

If a person wants to be addressed by name, they’ll introduce themselves. If not, just write “Hello.” and that’s it. It’s really that simple.

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Because there are international etiquette standards. Exactly for that same reason so no one would make anyone uncomfortable as we are all different and coming from different cultures.

If seller doesn’t want to follow simple international etiquette it just shows that he either didn’t make an effort to understand the needs or he is ignoring it on purpose which shows that they are not flexible.

I don’t care about bro dear etc even though it is super unprofessional to use it internationally but I do want to be able to understand my seller and them understand my brief.
As a buyer I do not want to make any efforts to put those sellers at ease and make an effort to try to understand what they mean. If I’m a buyer I came to fiverr for a professional who will make my life easy and will do my task without extra explanations.

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Excellent points. Impressions drive sales.

If a buyer isn’t comfortable or finds you unprofessional or lacking credibility, they may not buy from you again.

It isn’t about what the seller wants. It’s about what the buyer wants and expects. I’d love to start every order with a joke but I would never do that because I know it would put some people off.

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While this may be true, why work with someone who makes you feel uncomfortable for any reason? Most Americans are very uncomfortable when they are called dear on fiverr.

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Of course they want to work with Americans Because they have bigger budgets :grin:

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