Interacting across cultures

Interacting across cultures

Experience and intuition alone are not enough in international business. Neither does IQ nor EQ prepare you for business across borders. The challenges of global business can be disorienting and the statistic that 70% of international ventures fail because of cultural differences is very scary.

We are all involved in global and therefore cross-cultural business and we should constantly increase our cultural intelligence or CQ. Research demonstrates that a person’s CQ may easily be the single greatest difference between thriving in the 21st century world and becoming obsolete.

Many approaches to being culturally correct in global business are far too simplistic; for example, ‘What is the appropriate greeting for a stranger and a friend?’ or ‘When is it OK to shake a woman’s or a man’s hand?’ Some approaches are also too extreme like, “Don’t go anywhere until you’re a cross-cultural guru.”

Most successful entrepreneurs become adept at wading through conflict, negotiating a deal, and developing a good marketing strategy when working in their own cultural contexts. But the way we do all those things may need to change when expanding into new cultural contexts. Almost every day we have the opportunity to learn from people from a wide array of cultural backgrounds. And we need to observe and study the differences. Enhancing our own effectiveness and competitive edge in multicultural and global situations can be learnt.

Business relationships are built upon shared values and trust. When meeting someone from a different economic, cultural or social background it is really easy to see the differences. During these meetings, use basic human shared values to connect. For example, almost everyone is proud of their country, culture and family – so ask about them. Furthermore, a business owner will almost always be passionate about her business – and want to discuss it.

When we communicate with non-native English speakers, we need to eliminate any slang, or colloquialisms. Often the jargon used in certain cultures is deeply offensive in other cultures. Use basic, straightforward language.

However hard we try and however good our intentions are, many of us do make mistakes – ‘cultural blunders’ if you will…some humorous and others disastrous.

Tell us about your ‘cultural blunders ’.

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