Business Traveler + Cultural Competence = Win Win

If you’re like most companies, you have many more global business travelers than assignees.  Assignees are supported in so many ways, but are your global business travelers?  Many proactive measures are offered in order to mitigate risks to employees, such as traveler tracking or emergency response.  However, the soft issues are often ignored, like maintaining an acceptable level of cultural competency.

Sometimes it’s not obvious where security and culture intersect.  Did you know that a global business traveler can inadvertently become a security risk? Consequences of certain actions can be severe in some countries.  For example:

  • Distributing the Bible is illegal in China, and punishable by being detained, fined, and imprisoned.
  • Making the Nazi salute is illegal in Germany and is punishable with jail time.
  • Criticizing the King of Jordan can lead to imprisonment.
  • Public display of affection between opposite genders (even married couples) can be considered offensive and lead to arrest in Saudi Arabia.
  • Photography of government, military buildings and airports may lead to arrest in Nigeria.

Culturally agile travelers are safer, and this is why investing in it is so important. Developing cultural agility should include:

  •  Learning cultural do’s and don’ts
  •  Knowing how to build trust
  •   Identifying important workplace behaviors
  •   Managing expectations
  •   Observing differences in body language and communication nuances
  •   Coping with stress
  •   Understanding values associated with a culture

Once employees have become culturally agile, their appropriate behaviors and responses can prevent embarrassment and create business success.  For example, in Brazil, locals thrive on meaningful interpersonal relationships.  If you greet your business partner, and immediately “get down to business,” you will most likely offend your host.

Cultural agility can also relieve business traveler anxiety.  Appreciating values that may seem strange and foreign will go a long way.  For instance, in most Asian cultures silence signifies that people are thinking about what’s being said, but in many Western cultures, silence in business meetings can create tension/anxiety very quickly.

Supporting the development of your travelers’ cultural agility helps their stress, self-confidence, and success. It also meets your responsibility for duty of care.  Equally important, a business deal that is pre-empted by poor cultural etiquette can cost a company dearly in reputational damage.  Corporations must teach travelers how to avoid landing themselves, and the company, in trouble.
Written by Cathy Heyne, GMS-T –Managing Director