Understanding the Cultural Differences in Global Business Meetings and Communication

Understanding the Cultural Differences in Global Business Meetings and CommunicationUnderstanding the Cultural Differences in Global Business Meetings and Communication

Today we live in a global world. Ok, that is a redundant statement. A better way to put that is that we are more globally-minded than ever before, in this world we share. This is specially true in this virtual world we share.

Personally, I think that is a wonderful thing and provides us the opportunity to infuse elements from different cultures and to enjoy the synthesis of multi-cultural viewpoints and openness. This is not necessarily the way that everyone feels. However, whether this is an acceptable view or an unacceptable view, it does not change the fact that more and more, there is an intersection of business, across the globe.

If a business is setting out to do business and at least accepts the idea of business dealings with another culture, it would seem self-evident that there would be a desire to have a peaceful business transaction(s). One of the ways to give peace a better chance is to understand other cultures, and specifically, the relevant business culture. The infographic, below, provides some of the examples as it relates to business etiquette in the different countries.

business etiquette around the world

Business Etiquette Around The World [Infographic] by the team at CT Business Travel

While this infographic is a very helpful “cheat sheet,” there is certainly more to this than one infographic. First of all, do not expect that you can ingest everything there is to know about a culture that differs from your own. This isn’t something that will come to you overnight. However, an attempt at following the etiquette of the country you are visiting is a step in the right direction. Also, if you are entertaining guests from another country or culture, it is very complimentary to approach them within the context of their culture.

Religious Differences to Consider

While I do not claim to know all cultures or cultural practices, I did notice one aspect that was not covered in this infographic. That said, it would be nearly impossible to include it all in the same infographic and would be a separate infographic. There are different rules that need to be followed within different religious sects.

An example of the cultural expectations that may differ amongst different religions sects would be that of business handshakes. Some sects do no allow holy men (or whatever the appropriate terminology would be), to touch women. In this case, a handshake, even if it is shown to be an appropriate greeting for the particular country, may not be appropriate in the particular situation, if gender is an issue that may conflict with the religious beliefs. If a woman from a culture that allows inter-gender handshakes does not understand this ahead of time, she may think that she is being “judged” by the holy man who is unable to shake her hand. By understanding this ahead of time, both parties may be able to be spared the misunderstanding or confusion or embarrassment that may happen.

Sidebar: Another Context

It is interesting to look at this infographic in terms of interviews and dealings within my own country. For example, a person in the United States may look at an interview with a person from a country that does not support a business suit attire and wonder, “Why doesn’t that person dress up for the video interview?” However, that would be an inappropriate assessment because the interviewee should be viewed within the context of his or her own country and culture. In the same way, things like “too many smiles” is interesting in the context of the Russian culture and thinking that someone from Russia is unhappy because there are less smiles than, say, the United States, would be an inappropriate assessment.

Real-Life Application

If you are visiting another country, it is easy enough to adapt your behavior to the customs of that country and business establishment. If you have a guide who is traveling with you, that would be the appropriate person to ask, to ensure that you understand how to respect the local customs and culture. If you do not have a guide, you could possibly ask your contact person at the company that you will be visiting. You will want to do this before you arrive at their office (i.e. the day before the visit), so that you have time to modify your wardrobe, etc. If there is an attire that you are unfamiliar with, possibly there is a liaison who may be available to take a quick shopping trip with you, to acquire the appropriate attire.

If the culture is coming to you, in your office, you may want to be cognizant of the visiting culture. Of course, this could be tricky if the visiting company is practicing the same advice here and attempting to adapt to your culture while you are attempting to adapt to their culture. However, even in that, you are showing respect for the others’ culture and that would seem to be a respectful thing to do (assuming that line of thinking is conducive to your particular view and your company view).

An example would be the attire. In the United States, oftentimes a full business suit is thought to be appropriate. That is also what is reflected in the infographic, above. If the company visiting you is coming from a culture where business suits are not the customary attire, then simply removing the suit coat may help to show the respect. That said, the visiting guest may have acquired a business suit coat in order to show respect and in that case, you may want to leave the coat on, for the meeting. This is an example of how easy it may be to show respect.

Also, the weight of a particular element of the culture should be considered and this is where communication, especially with liaisons or guides or the contact person at the company is very important. What I mean by weight is to determine which has more importance, following a custom or not following a custom. In many cases, one has impact and the other does not have impact. If the decision to follow a particular custom is inconsequential to the other custom, then it makes logical sense to follow the custom that is most important within the respective culture.

Here is an example…

As a woman, in the United States, I do not cover my head. However, I have visited places where it is very offensive to have my head uncovered. In that case, bringing a simple scarf, or accepting one that is provided to me, is a way that I can respect the culture that I am visiting. That is not a time for you to decide to choose to “stand your ground.” Instead, look at what value has more impact. In this circumstance, covering my head does not create an offense in my culture, but not covering my head does create an offense in the other culture. So, this decision, in showing respect, is an easy decision when weighed with logic.

In Conclusion

This doesn’t have to be complicated. The infographic provides a point of reference. Just remember that communication is often the easiest way to bridge the gap and from there, choose the level to which you will respect the other culture(s). There is a way to balance this so that it benefits everyone and creates a mutually-respectful environment on which to build your business dealings and future business relationship(s).

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