Too Many Cultures …Too Little Time

Recently, I took a grueling – but successful — business trip with my team. When we received the schedule — six countries on three continents in six weeks – we knew it would be tough. But we also knew the business plan relied on our ability to make good impressions that build trust and solid relationships.

Visiting one or two countries seemed manageable.  We could learn a bit of background, and perhaps brush up on polite phrases.  But six countries was daunting, especially when we wanted to learn as much about our colleagues as they did about us. Our team quickly realized that using global business skills would help us succeed anywhere in the world.

Our challenge was not unusual in today’s business arena. Here are a few tips that can help build your own business skills when traveling around the globe.

  • Keep an open mind. Expect that things will be different.
  • Withhold quick judgments.  There are many ways to approach a task.
  • Do not make assumptions.  Ask questions that clarify understanding on both sides.
  • Be observant. Take cues from the locals by watching how they interact with each other.  For example, do elders or higher-ranking individuals get preference in seating arrangements, or are all arranged equally?
  • Pay attention to formality.  Do locals use first or last names when addressing each other, and in what situations?
  • Observe body language for silent cues.
  • When in doubt, err on the side of modesty.
  • Use patience with people who are not speaking their first or primary language.
  • Watch for communication patterns.  Are there long periods of silence? Or are responses almost on top of each other?
  • Be aware that behaviors are driven by deeper values and beliefs that are not immediately apparent.
  • Know that your cultural background means you have your own cultural preferences, and they affect your interactions with others.  Learn more about this using a tool like Living Abroad’s Global Business Travel Center.
  • Be willing to compromise and adapt your approach, in order to achieve your goals.

Written by Diane McGreal, Living Abroad Cultural Advisor