It’s an uncomfortable fact, but they just do things differently in other countries – but more importantly, they think differently about business. Many of your firmly held beliefs, about how business should be conducted, what constitutes an agreement, and even when ‘yes’ means ‘yes’, may have to be abandoned for overseas market entry.
To navigate a culturally complex business world, you need to develop high levels of cultural fluency; you need the ability to be able to operate smoothly across a number of geographies – each of which may have extremely different opinions about what ‘good’ looks like in terms of relationship-building, approach to meetings, business ethics and communication. Without the requisite levels of cultural fluency, you are very likely to alienate people without knowing it and miss important opportunities when they arise. (You are also, by the way, much more likely to be taken in by charlatans and time-wasters.)
It is vital to know what you need to learn about the culture you will encounter in another country. It is also important to have an idea of what you don’t need to know. A lot of books and training courses tend to focus on the irrelevant, superficial differences you’re likely to encounter. You will never lose a deal in Japan if you fail to hand over your business card correctly. A Thai business partner will not frogmarch you to the door if you inadvertently point your feet at them. These types of issues are just not important. What is important is to understand your own cultural business mindset, the cultural business mindset of your counterparty, and where there are differences between those two ways of seeing the world. The space between those two points is where the dissonances will be found.
The vast majority of the world (from a population perspective at least) place the development of good-quality human relationships before business considerations. Or, putting it another way, they will only begin to consider business issues once a human relationship has been formed. Almost all of the emerging markets operate in this fashion, and cultural fluency is the quickest way to help you develop those all-important relationships.
The next step in our 10-step guide will look at developing cultural fluency.
Keith Warburton, founder of Global Business Culture, is one of the world’s leading experts on the commercial impact of cultural differences on global business. He is a frequent keynote speaker at international conferences and leads corporate training programmes all over the world.