What would you think if you walked into a conference room in Luanda and found your business host dressed in a suit that borders on formal wear?
Suppose this host is your Angolan contact with whom you are conducting important negotiations. Would you feel a pang of unease, and wonder if you were underdressed in your light-weight suit? Or quickly scan your memory for some forgotten invitation to a formal occasion post-meeting?
In the brief time it takes you to note the unexpected dress, you may have lost some of the train of thought in your last-minute mental preparations. You may be a half-second behind in greeting those assembled. At the very least, part of your mind is engaged elsewhere as you take in – and make sense of — the visual cues in the room.
But what if you knew ahead of time that visiting business people may encounter Angolans wearing all manner of dress when they wish to show superiority or gain the upper hand? That a very formal suit or a person’s best outfit may come out of the closet for an important meeting? This knowledge would allow you to note the formal attire, understand the mindset behind it, and begin the meeting well-equipped to focus on the core business at hand.
Everyone prepares at least a little. In fact, there are so many information outlets these days that it’s hard to avoid learning things even about remote places. And in larger destinations like Angola, you’re probably aware of things like its capital, Luanda, being one of the most expensive cities in the world for expatriates. But did you also know it’s one of the most difficult African countries in which to do business? Language issues, lack of consistent regulation guidance, and corruption all pose challenges.
These challenges translate to delays in achieving a business goal as well as difficulty with one-on-one daily communication. And there are many layers to cultural makeup. Layers that affect business dealings include things like approach to hierarchy, high and low context communication styles, and the importance of relationships versus task achievement.
Truly, the “first do no harm” Hippocratic Oath message can apply to international business. At the very least, avoiding cultural gaffes or giving offense can keep you from losing business. At the very most, understanding your counterpart and respecting his or her attitudes and behavior can lead to a rich and rewarding – not to mention prosperous – business conclusion.
Being a little bit prepared, or a little bit aware, is surely better than nothing. While a little preparation helps, fuller knowledge makes a real difference. The more you engage in truly understanding cultural differences, the smoother your interactions — and success — will be.
With Living Abroad’s International Relocation Center, your assignees and business travelers will never be far from getting the information they need, when they need it, no matter where they are in the world! It’s easy with a subscription to the International Relocation Center. Subscribe to one destination, or the destinations your company would benefit from the most.
Written by Ellen Harris, GMS, Living Abroad, International Product Director