Four Tips for Global Cultural Fluency When Doing Business
February 15, 2019
By: Cathie Ericson
Making the “OK” sign with your fingers in Venezuela. Offering or receiving a business card with only one hand in Japan. Cleaning your plate in China.
Any of these seemingly innocuous actions can come off as major business blunders when you’re interacting with partners in other countries.
As the corporate world enjoys the freedom of globalization and increased business from robust imports and exports, it’s important to be sensitive to other countries’ cultures and norms. Because while today’s communication makes it easier than ever to keep in touch, it also can be easy to forget that there are real differences to be aware of.
Here are four key ways you can increase your cultural sensitivity in the era of globalization by brushing up on the basics before conducting business abroad.
1. Read up on the country’s norms and culture
While you wouldn’t be expected to know every nuance, it’s smart to find out about some obvious ones, like the hand gestures mentioned above. You can do some online research, or even better, talk to a native about the unspoken rules. Don’t forget that the real name for the internet is the “worldwide web." Hence, we have instant access to resources around the globe which can help us make the world that much smaller. You can join a business-related chat group before you head to another country and ask for some of the pitfalls you should heed. Most people will appreciate your desire to fit in and be respectful of cultural differences.
2. Pay attention to calendar differences
While those in the United States know that the Fourth of July usually means that businesses are closed, those in other countries consider it, well, just the day after the third of July. Anticipating similar dates in other countries means you won’t be surprised by unexpected closures or shutdowns related to their culture that can derail deadlines. For example, Chinese New Year 2019 takes place from Feb. 5 to 19, a period during which the country is essentially closed for business.
3. Take cues from others
Dining etiquette in other countries can be particularly tricky. One way to adapt—in addition to doing some prior research—is to pay attention to your hosts and look for clues to the culture. If you notice that others aren’t sitting down or starting to dine, don’t be the first one. Often there’s a pattern that should be followed and you can pick up on it by simply being patient.
4. Apologize when you make an inadvertent business blunder
An important part of any business connection is making a human connection—moving from a more formal relationship to one where you have created legitimate camaraderie. Believe it or not, even where globalization is concerned, how you react to a gaffe can help you progress to that more casual rapport. So, if you make a mistake, remember that your business colleagues don’t expect you to know their customs inside and out. Do the best you can, and when you see you have made an error, apologize and ask the correct way. Showing that you respect their customs—and wish to abide by them—is what will make the lasting impression.
About the Author
Cathie Ericson is a freelance writer covering business and consumer topics. She creates branded content for Fortune 500 companies, and her work has appeared in LearnVest, Costco Magazine, Forbes, TheGlassHammer.com and IDEA Fitness. Follow her @cathieericson.
All content provided herein is for educational purposes only. It is provided “as is” and neither the author nor Office Depot, Inc. warrant the accuracy of the information provided, nor do they assume any responsibility for errors, omissions or contrary interpretation of the subject matter herein.
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