International borders blur as businesses large and small seek to expand markets in a world made closer by technological advances. Chances are, business professionals will be challenged working with individuals from different cultures and societies in the years to come.
Graduates of advanced degree programs like a Master of Business Administration focused on international business will ultimately be measured by their ability to lead teams of diverse individuals or make inroads on improving the bottom line in ways of doing business foreign to their own.
It all starts with embracing cultural differences, whether you’re making several international trips a year to drum up business and meet with clients, or serving as a member of a diverse team in the U.S. charged with solving a problem.
An Intuit article suggests researching local customs and etiquette before working with an international client. “You may find that some cultures don’t like to talk about pricing upfront, so you might need to customize the way you discuss your estimate for a project,” the article says. “Likewise, in some countries, the ‘hard sell’ is considered a turnoff: In Australia, for example, you’re likely to receive a better reception if you make a self-deprecating introduction rather than a self-promotional one.”
A CircaLingua article outlines several considerations when dealing with cultural differences:
- Be mindful of established norms, which vary based on the local culture.
- Pay attention to the political, economic and policy situations in countries where you are conducting business.
- Build your business ties based on your relationship ties. Be receptive when potential clients introduce you to a favorite local food or other part of their culture.
Leaderonomics.com suggests keeping an open mind and being willing to learn. “Having the right attitude is probably the most important thing in building successful intercultural relationships,” the website says.
Don’t Forget the Small Details
Something as simple as knowing what time it is in a potential client’s country can make or break a deal. Free apps like World Clock enable you to look up the time in different parts of the world. Being mindful of time differences can safeguard against making a business call to someone who may be fast asleep, for instance.
A Serfy article offers a few common-sense suggestions:
- Being open and honest in all business transactions goes a long way toward building long-term relationships.
- Committing to deadlines enables clients to meet their business obligations.
- Work out a payment plan such as a PayPal or wire transfer for foreign payments. Know what processing fees are involved and set up a foreign currency balance in your bank to avoid paying conversion fees.
- Be careful with email communications, as differences in language and local slang can cause problems. Ask for clarification if you don’t understand what your client wants.
- Laws are different in every country, so talk with an attorney before signing any contracts.
- Follow through with your commitments with no surprises for your client. Surprises tend to have unintended consequences.
Diversity in the Workplace
Fast and efficient air travel, email, video conferencing and other technologies have put global marketing in the hands of small businesses and large corporations alike. Add the cultural diversity found in most any office today and the result is a mix of cultures and ethnicities that make up the modern workplace. Leaderonomics.com offers tips on efficient dealings in such environments:
- Understand that different cultures use different greetings. A handshake is a common business greeting around the world, but it will be brief in France compared to the drawn-out, firm handshake in the U.S. The depth of a bow in Japan depends on the status of the person you are greeting. Research greeting norms before you travel.
- Breaching personal space is uncomfortable and impolite. It differs in most every country, so again, do your research.
- Know your gender etiquette. In more conservative cultures, physical contact between men and women in public is unacceptable. In those cases, a nod and a smile will do.
- Different hand gestures have different meanings around the world. For example, making a circle with thumb and index finger means okay in America. But it is an extremely offensive gesture in Brazil.
The global climate has created great opportunity to expand business across the world, and the right mix of common sense, knowledge and sensitivity to cultural differences can result in positive business outcomes.