We now live in a fully global society where it is imperative to have an awareness of cultural differences as they relate to networking. We often notice differences within our own country. However, what about businesses that are networking with businesses in other parts of the world? We should be aware and prepared for some of these particular cultural differences that can affect the way we network with other cultures. They are sometimes as simple as the way we hand out a business card, to as complex as the study of personal space, and the use of gesters.
Networking in today’s market takes finesse and knowledge of the culture in which you are networking. Furthermore, if you attending a global convention or event, you will need to know the customs of networking for the various cultures attending, not just those of the host country. Here are three areas where cultural differences mandate a closer look at networking etiquette:
Business Card Etiquette
Exchanging business cards is an essential part of most cultures. The business card is much more in the Asian culture than it is to us here in America. It is truly an extension of the individual and is treated with respect. Things like, tucking it into a pocket after receiving it, writing on it, bending or folding it in any way, or even looking at it again after you have first accepted it and looked at it are not considered polite and can insult your fellow Asian networker.
Consideration of “Personal Space”
When networking, it’s very important to respect the cultural boundaries relating to personal space. Some cultural dynamics are fine with close personal interaction, while others demand a bigger bubble. This is not a point to underestimate.
In Saudi Arabia, you might find yourself recoiling while your business associate may get the impression that you are stand-offish. In the Netherlands, this might be reversed due to the fact that their personal space equates to our social space. Do your homework and be sensitive to cultural differences in this area.
Use of Slang and Gestures
When using slang in a business environment, you might want to keep in mind that what means one thing to us might have no meaning or have a very different meaning in another culture. I recommend that you consult with someone in that country who is familiar with that culture before interacting with the business people.
It was invaluable to me to be able to have my Israeli Director in BNI, Sam Schwartz, coach me regarding the Orthodox Jewish custom of not shaking hands with someone from the opposite gender.
Networking basics are universal; with some care for taking into account cultural nuances. It is important to find things that bring us together. Things that are similar for us all. For example, we all speak the language of referrals and we all want to do business based on trust. This transcends many cultural differences.