Interacting with individuals from different cultures has become the norm today. Whilst it is entirely exhilarating for some to interact with different cultures, making a successful impact may sometimes be challenging when networking in international business fora.
Understanding the dynamics of different cultures may take time and patience, yet, if given the attention it deserves, the results may be extremely rewarding – both in business terms and personally.
Here are some classical examples of how values and behaviour may differ across cultures:
Greetings – Some cultures may give value to a firm hand shake whilst others such as the French or Italians, believe in greeting others by offering a kiss on each cheek. Some cultures may dismiss greeting women and may only do so if they are introduced by a man.
Individualism vs Collectivism – Whilst the U.S has an individualistic culture and celebrate individual achievement, Scandinavian countries, as outlined in the Jante Law, believe it is inappropriate to be overly ambitious or to boast of one’s achievement.
Communication styles – Whilst some cultures such as the British, value diplomacy, Mediterranean cultures may be more confrontational and appear to argue when in disagreement.
Time – Whereas African countries may be very laidback when it comes to lateness and personal time, other cultures, such as the Germans and Swedish are very strict when it comes to punctuality.
Cultural Calendars – Some religions such as Islam consider Friday to be a holy day, therefore one should not expect a prompt answer on this day. Also, it may be challenging to work during Ramadan and this should be respected.
Body language – While the western world considers maintaining eye contact as important, Asians believe that intense eye contact is disrespectful. The ‘thumbs-up’ sign may be considered rude in Asian countries while a raised hand may mean ‘stop’ in Europe or ‘allow me to speak’ in China.
Relationship building – The western world may believe in maintaining a highly professional relationship with business partners whilst Asians believe in building a personal relationship which is based on trust, when building business relations.
While this list is by far not exhaustive, it is good to keep in mind that people’s characters vary even within cultures. Thankfully the internet and more specifically LinkedIn can serve as window into the other person’s background, and research prior to a business meeting is sure to be beneficial. Finding out some brief words or practices within your contact’s language/culture is sure to earn you some points. Nonetheless, patience and prudence in any intercultural situation should remain key at all time.