Why cultural glasses are a must when going global

Cultural glasses
Cultural glasses

It is vital that British companies trading overseas adjust the business practices they would normally adopt in the UK to account for a myriad of differences they will encounter.

The British way of conducting business is shaped by our own individual cultural lens, which is influenced by experiences from family, education, friends, colleagues and career. We see our business world clearly and are confident in the clarity of our vision.

Working or trading in a new country, however, is like picking up the wrong pair of reading glasses. While vague shapes - such as buildings - may be the same, everything else is fuzzy.

This is because even though your product, service and commercial acumen have not changed – your frame of reference has.

Business is different in a different country, and how it is conducted may confuse or frustrate us. Our approach could likewise affront our global clients and business partners.

In our vast experience of equipping companies with global cultural expertise, the solution lies in donning cultural spectacles to help manage a business successfully across different countries and nationalities.

Getting the basics - such as avoiding shaking hands over a threshold because Russian folk belief says that this action will lead to an argument - is vital.

How do you elicit a real answer from a Chinese supplier who will not say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ - bearing in mind that Mandarin does not have a simple word for either yes or no?

You cannot learn or be fully prepared for everything - but you can take some key steps to develop synergies and harness commercial opportunities.

Preparation to develop your global mindset includes:

  • Challenging your assumptions and expectations. Your view of the world and business is totally subjective. Look through your cultural lens and be receptive - to expect different interpretations of simple things
  • Avoid being surprised by preparation, research and reading
  • Have a basic language level in the country you are trading with. If business is long term, invest in the language, not just the travel phrases
  • Take time to build relationships - a friend will be more forgiving than a cold business contact

Your cultural glasses will keep you in the frame for continued global success in business and help bring your international vision to fruition.

Gustavo Aranda, business development manager at Farnham Castle Intercultural Training (FCIT), has amassed a decade of expertise in providing education and training – with particular emphasis on the oil and gas industry worldwide. FCIT www.farnhamcastletraining.com is a leading provider of global cultural expertise for business; working with organisations to improve performance by ensuring that employees have the skills necessary to work more effectively in any country worldwide.