For good or bad, globalization is here to stay. And while opportunities for the small business owner increase substantially when looking outside the borders of the United States, so do the pitfalls. Among them is the fact that business is conducted differently in other cultures, and not being aware of that can result in a deal-wrecking catastrophe. There’s more to it, of course, than knowing the proper way to present or accept a business card in China. It’s doing your homework and understanding how best to start and maintain international relationships with those of other cultures that will help your business grow.
“The deeper cultural roots of how business is conducted varies so much from country to country, even from the U.S. to Canada, and from individual to individual,” says Diane McGreal, director of Global Leadership Training Solutions Worldwide for Berlitz Languages Inc. (www.berlitz.us), who spent a number of years living abroad in Asia and Europe. Currently responsible for Solution Development for Global Leadership Training Worldwide, McGreal offers five things entrepreneurs looking to broaden their horizons need to know:
1. Know that in some countries, people are doing-oriented; in others, they’re being-oriented.
A being-oriented person puts a whole lot more emphasis on a relationship and is motivated more by building solid, trusting relationships. It takes time and a lot of experience, and so quite often building a sound relationship is more important than meeting a target date. On the other hand, doing relationships are more about getting the task done. So, if I’m very relationship-oriented and you’re very task-driven, we have a gap here, don’t we, because I want to get things done and you want to get to know me.
2. Know the difference between fixed and fluid time.
In countries such as the U.S., people are fixed time-oriented and tend to define time precisely—a 2 p.m. meeting is expected to start exactly at 2 p.m. When you can’t make the meeting, you let them know ahead of time. In countries that are more fluid in their orientation, time is much more loosely defined. If you couldn’t talk to me at our originally planned time, obviously the only reason why is because you had something else going on, something that you couldn’t end in time to talk to me.
3. Know that some cultures are more formal than others.
The whole key when we travel abroad usually is based around communication and how formal or informal you are. Countries that are more formal tend to put a lot of emphasis on following protocol and customs. The informal tend to put more value on more casual, friendly, and relaxed environments.
4. Know the language.
While it’s probably not expected for a business person to be fluent in the language, making an effort to have at least social skills—being able to greet people and order in a restaurant—will buy you a lot of credibility and trust. If it’s going to be a long-term relationship with somebody and you expect to travel back and forth on a regular basis, and English is not the spoken language in the office, then you better learn the language.
5. Know the right questions to ask.
What are your objectives? In order to have a successful outcome, what do you need to do? There’s one big step as part of cultural due diligence and that’s self-awareness. Before we can understand other cultures, we have to understand ourselves. For example, there are things that we do as individuals that we just assume the rest of the world does.