Some of the best conversations happen over lunch and today was going to be no exception. My guest began talking the cross cultural dynamics that exist within his international business. He described how he changed his leadership and management approach depending which culture he was operating in. I reflected on my own experiences as an international keynote speaker and how I adapt to the cultures of the individuals and organisations I work with. Over lunch we developed a unique three step approach to building international business relationships that can be summarised in three steps.
The first step in building international business relationships is to ‘acknowledge difference’.
It is all too easy to assume that because someone works in the same business sector, has the same professional role or has learnt to speak the same language, that they are fundamentally the same as us, rather than acknowledge cultural difference. It is to our advantage to be slow to make assumptions about other people especially when building international business relationships across cultures.
Becoming a student of people and the cultural difference is one of the keys to building international business relationships. Some cultural differences are obvious and easy to identify whilst others sit below the surface and are not immediately apparent. Culture comes in many forms and can be divided into three levels:
- Level 1: Cultural products – The products of culture include language, food, buildings, music, fashion and art.
- Level 2: Cultural norms and values – Norms are the mutual sense a group has of right and wrong. Values determine the definition of good and bad, and are formed in national culture through the rule of law, politics, education and religion.
- Level 3: Cultural existence – The way that families, communities and societies organise themselves within a given natural environment in order to survive and thrive.
The effects of globalisation, immigration and multiculturalism mean that we live in diverse national cultures. It is increasingly difficult to stereotype or typify national cultures because countries do not have identical cultural products, values, norms and reasons for being.
Embracing and optimising this cultural diversity is a fundamental life skill for individuals, families, and communities in the societies of the world. Building international business relationships has become a critical competence for executives and businesses the world over.
Question: What international business relationships are you trying to build which would benefit from stepping back and acknowledging the cultural differences that exist between you?