With globalisation making the world a smaller place in recent years, organisations and us as individuals are now engaging with a proliferation of nations and cultures like never before. As we step into this brave new world, it is important to consider the similarities and differences between us and our global counterparts so we can leverage the most value out of these relationships. A part of this, whatever sector you are operating in, will be business culture. Your understanding of this could be the difference between failure and success. But what is culture? How can we ensure we remain appropriate with other foreign business cultures? Especially if your company is operating on an international level, it is essential to know how professional people in certain countries prefer to interact. One should therefore gain as much knowledge as possible about different cultures and manners of doing business across the globe.
In his book ‘When Cultures Collide’, Richard D. Lewis says "By focusing on the cultural roots of national behaviour, both in society and business, we can foresee and calculate with a surprising degree of accuracy how others will react to our plans for them. Allowing us to make certain assumptions as to how they will approach us. A working knowledge of the basic traits of other cultures (as well as our own) will minimise unpleasant surprises (culture shock), give us insights in advance, and enable us to interact successfully with nationalities with whom we previously had difficulty”.
This blog is the introduction of a new series that will take a look at some of the main cultural differences you should consider when evaluating culture in your organisation, and will use a range of different environments and locations as examples. Each blog will feature a particular country, looking closely at how people in this region like to do business. Each country will be explored against the following criteria:
1. Business Communications
The first barrier is the language; however many international businesses are capable of conducting interviews or meetings in English. In this section, I will be looking at how any featured country prefers to hold and run meetings, what language they prefer and the channels they use (face-to-face, video conference or phone meetings). Also this section will be looking at the internal communication preferences overall.
2. Ice Breakers
Ice breakers are always hard, especially in a new environment. Some people are very good at it some not as much. Understanding the use of humour in the business context is an essential to ensure it is pitched right for each audience. In this section I will look closely at what is the best way to start a conversation, and what you should use as an ice breaker.
3. Business Etiquette
Etiquette and manners are an integral part of any business transaction, no matter what the location. But how you greet people, is the eye contact appropriate while speaking? Your use of body language can greatly vary from one culture to the next. Also what is appropriate when presenting yourself, in terms of dress code or punctuality?
4. Top 3 Do’s and Don’ts
This section will show you three top things to avoid when you are in meetings or interviews with individuals from any selected region and three things which will help you fit in and interact successfully.
So why am I so interested in understanding business cultures from around the world? Well, from my own experience having interviews in various places around Europe, emigrating from Poland to the UK, I felt this insight might even help you get a competitive advantage. Of course you may already have heard some myths or stereotypes about how different cultures interact. However more often than not, blanket stereotyping is not applicable and it is a deeper understanding of cultural drivers and motivations that is required, especially in the business environment. As an international company we should take the time to consider how we engage with our international colleagues, customers and partners and be aware of areas that may cause confusion or offence.
It is crucial to know what to expect from different nationalities, when communicating, conducting interviews, meetings, events etc. You need to make sure that you are respecting other cultures whilst giving them the tools and outline what is expected of them, so both sides can feel comfortable. Reading this series of blogs will hopefully educate you to some of the subtle differences between you and your international colleagues, helping you to relax and be more comfortable.