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Culture and Business – Put your glasses on

Date: 01 July 2014

Have you got your Cultural Glasses on? 

It is really important to separate myth from reality, especially when you are dealing with international business.  Does every Indian consult a horoscope before making important decisions?  Does every Russian drink a litre of vodka a day?  Of course the answer is “no” to both, however we must understand that the reality of doing business abroad differs from your own reality.

Do you know how to address your Russian colleague?  Mr Orlov, or Vasiliy, or Vasiliy Alexandrovich, or maybe Vasya.  How do you get a real answer from a Chinese supplier who will not say yes or no (by the way, Mandarin does not have a simple word for either yes or no!)? Is the purpose of a meeting to discuss an agenda or to inform your team of decisions already taken?

One of the main difficulties of doing business in foreign markets is that our interpretation of the realities of business is challenged constantly by the cultural approaches of other countries.  Our individual cultural lens is created from our experience of life: family, education, friends, colleagues etc and we see business quite clearly.  Doing business in a new country is like picking up the wrong glasses – the vague shapes are the same, but everything is unclear, and quite quickly you can end up with a headache (literal or metaphorical!).  

Your product and business acumen have not changed, but the frame of reference has.  Business is just different in India, and how it is conducted may confuse, frustrate or even offend us – just as our approach has a similar effect on them!  What we need is a set of cultural spectacles that will help us to view reality as a cultural construct which is dynamic and moving, not the concrete reality we expect.   We need to view each intercultural encounter through these dynamic lenses, allowing us to harvest the amazing rewards of international trade.

You cannot learn or be fully prepared for everything – but you can take some steps to ensure you do not enter the world of international business completely blind:

  • Challenge your assumptions and expectations.  Your view of the world and business is just that – yours!  Put on a cultural lens to expect different interpretations of simple things
  • Don’t be surprised.  By that we mean, do your preparation – ask around, do some reading
  • Have a basic level in the language – if it is a long term deal, show your commitment by investing in the language, not just the travel phrases
  • Take the time to build a relationship – a friend will be more forgiving than a cold business contact

This information is brought to you by Farnham Castle Intercultural Training

Working with leading national and international companies, educational institutions and government agencies, Farnham Castle design, develop and deliver intercultural training solutions.

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