As our world becomes seemingly ever-smaller, more and more companies are doing business globally. Even if your company operates and sells domestically, chances are you deal with at least one non-U.S. supplier or vendor. Succeeding globally in business requires an understanding of cultural differences. More than just learning to speak the language, you need to know the customs and traditions that apply to those with whom you want to do business in order for these relationships to be successful.
By improving your own awareness of things like how people greet each other and how they share information in a particular country, you demonstrate an appreciation and sensitivity to that company’s homeland that can only help in closing the deal.
Take a situation where you extend your hand upon greeting the person you are meeting with, only to find that this person believes that people should bow when they are first introduced. This simple mistake may get your meeting off to a bad start and put you in recovery mode to get back on track.
Make sure that everyone on your team interacting with overseas customers and vendors is aware of the customs involved in making an introduction, conducting a meeting, sharing information, and even eating a meal. These crucial pieces of knowledge can make a big difference when it comes to closing the deal.
Understand the pace at which you typically conduct business transactions and how it might mesh or conflict with the desired pace of your counterpart. Americans are well-known for wanting things done quickly, but other cultures may prefer a slower pace to process the details.
If you are unsure about the customs in a country you’re traveling to or of a person you’re working with, seek out someone who is familiar with the culture and ask whatever questions you feel are pertinent. If you do not know someone to ask, turn to the Internet and search for the country along with key words such as “business etiquette” or “culture.” Doing research in advance means fewer things to worry about later, giving you more time to concentrate on the nuts and bolts of the deal.
It is also helpful to understand the values of the person or company with whom you interact. In individualistic societies that are prevalent in the United States and in Western Europe, the goals of individuals are valued more highly than the goals of the group. Individuals are rewarded for behaving independently, making their own plans, and working toward achieving personal goals.
However, this is not the case in the collectivistic societies that make up much of Asia and Africa, where the needs of the group are considered more important than those of the individual. If you are looking to build a partnership with an overseas business, this can be a crucial piece of information as you try to work together.
Being aware of cultural differences and demonstrating respect for the attitudes and values of those with whom you interact can go a long way toward bridging the cultural divide and creating successful, rewarding relationships.