Want to do business globally? Do your homework on culture

Want to do business globally? Do your homework on culture

The business world is more globally connected every day because of technology, and if you’re out there trying to find international customers for your goods and services, you need to learn more about the people you will be meeting.

Nikki Jarvis, head of business development for Thinker in Chicago, has traveled to more than 30 countries and learned several cultural differences that are important to know if you want to build successful relationships. For example:

  • In India, everything is negotiable. “As Westerners, we see price tags and assume those prices are final. No, (in India) that price has been positioned a little higher than perhaps it’s worth because they expect that it will be negotiated down.”
  • Meeting times are fluid in South America. “You’re not expected to show up right on the dot. There’s a bit more personal element to meetings. They want to get to know you first before diving into business. How are the kids? How is the family? They need to establish trust before jumping into the business thing.”
  • Authority is sacred in Japan. “If you want to speak to the CEO, you can’t just contact an associate to connect with the CEO because that associate most likely has to go through their manager to ask for permission just to send an email to someone higher than them.”
  • Don’t talk shop at dinner in New Zealand. “We don’t have strong boundaries of when to do business and when not to do business (in the U.S.). In New Zealand, you can do business over lunch, but you cannot do business over dinner. Dinner is a sacred social space.”

Jarvis has experienced these cultural differences firsthand. If you are making a trip to a new country, do your homework. There are several good stories on this. A 2013 story from Entrepreneur (“How to Avoid Cultural Missteps When Doing Business With Other Countries“) boiled it down pretty succinctly:

  • Familiarize yourself with cultural basics. An online search for the country and “cultural competence” should give you plenty of resources.
  • Pay attention to your gestures. Shaking hands, or how you stand or sit, means different things in different cultures.
  • Take cues from clues. If someone starts an interaction with small talk, then follow along because they are expecting some social interaction before going into business.
  • Start reserved. Avoid slang or informalities until you get a sense of what is expected.

A point that is not on here but should be is … enjoy the trip. The world is a big place with lots to see. Golfer Ben Hogan, who was not known for especially pithy quotes, did have one that everyone should live by:

“As you walk down the fairway of life you must smell the roses, for you only get to play one round.”