As our world becomes more and more of a globally-active environment, it only makes sense that businesses should be aware of other customs and business transactions when they plan on working with a company from another culture. This can seem daunting, but now more than ever it's necessary to know differences in how various cultures conduct business and how best to observe those differences.
Cultural Issues: Explicit & Implicit
Most agree that cultural issues are either one of two factions. These end up boiling down to explicit and implicit cultural implications. Explicit culture is the differences that are often easy to see such as how your potential business partner might dress, how they speak, what they eat, and so on. These are easy to observe and react to when you are conducting business because they are almost immediately apparent when you meet a new friend or colleague from another culture.
Implicit cultural implications are usually related to values or religious beliefs. Though these might not be always easy to pinpoint, they can be a major factor in how you talk to your new acquaintance and what to bring up in conversation.
Do the research
Before you plan on heading to the location of your next business meeting, the best thing you can do is to take a little time and prepare for some cultural differences you might encounter. All it usually takes is a quick internet search to identify what you might need to keep in mind when meeting with new people. Also, make sure to ask a friend or family member who might have journeyed to that location if they noticed any cultural differences you should be aware of. By taking this time to prepare, you can end up saving yourself embarrassing mistakes or offending the other party you are doing business with.
Be aware of the dimensions of national culture
One way you can gauge the situation you might be in when you are doing business with a member of another culture is to keep dimensions of national culture in mind. Geert Hofstede developed these dimensions in order to help those in a new culture know how to react to certain situations. When assessing a new situation and how to best handle the differences between your own beliefs and ideals and your new business partner's, you might want to consider these five dimensions:
- Power distance: Equality or inequality of different societies.
- Individualism or collectivism: How important is individuality or collectivity to the new culture you might be experiencing. For example, an American society might be more individually-focused than an Italian one.
- Masculinity or femininity: A focus on gender and how each gender is perceived.
- Uncertainty avoidance: How an individual or culture reacts to unknown circumstances.
- Long-term orientation: A focus on the future rather than immediate or short-term goals.
Each of these dimensions can be combined in multiple ways in order to make up a culture and are a excellent way of deciding how to react in a certain situation when you might not know certain cultural nuances.
Examples of Do's & Don'ts
Here are some examples of cultural differences you might need to be aware of when conducting a foreign business meeting:
- Accept that personal space is different from culture to culture. In Argentina, you might find people stand closer to you and might touch you more often than other cultures.
- Be open to other ethics. Brazilians are more likely to bend the rules a bit and often use the word “jeito” to convey rule-breaking.
- Be a bit reserved when meeting with French colleagues. They tend to discourage openness as a sign of false behavior.
- Apologize for touching with someone with your foot in India, feet are considered unclean and you can greatly offend someone if you choose to ignore it.
- Accept a drink in Russia. Business is rarely conducted without it.
- Greet your Chinese colleague with their first name, even if you know him or her well. It's considered disrespectful.
- Schedule any meetings on Friday in Dubai. It is considered a day of prayer. During the month of Ramadan, should also try not to eat or drink in public.
Mix up the Greek words for “yes” and “no.” They almost sound opposite to what you would expect in English.
- Dress casually in Japan. You should always wear your best business clothes Monday through Friday.
- Shake hands in Saudi Arabia if you are a woman—unless your male counterpart offers his hand first.
Trust Your Instincts
After you have done all the research and you are aware of cultural differences, the best thing you can do is trust what you have learned and your ethics as a business or individual. The good thing is that most cultures understand there might be a mix up or two and are willing to meet you halfway. Your culture is new to them too! Trust your ability to be compassionate and understanding in new situations—those are qualities that come across in every culture and that your foreign business partners will greatly appreciate.