Today’s global society provides many opportunities for businesspeople. To make the most of those opportunities, it is important to understand cultural differences when doing business around the world.
Keep in mind that many business and networking basics are universal across all cultures. When we concentrate on similarities with each other, the differences are much less important. When we focus on the perceived differences between each other in business, that focus can become a stumbling block to developing strong relationships, which is the foundation of business networking success.
If you are traveling to another country, begin your preparation long before you are ready to catch your flight. Research your destination. Look at the general layout of the area plus the local culture, lifestyle, and customs. Read the local news and be informed regarding any current events and holidays that are occurring while you are there.
I suggest that you talk to someone that lives where you are going. You probably already have a good contact with someone who invited you to travel to their country. Talk with them prior to your arrival to review what to expect and ask them to share some of the cultural differences. I have done this consistently over the years that I have traveled as the Founder of BNI® and found it makes a huge difference in my ability to connect in an appropriate way throughout the many countries I have visited.
You may also find this website helpful. It provides cultural etiquette information for 44 countries and can be a good reference.
Top Five Tips
- Learn a few key phrases in the native language of the country you are visiting. Business associates will typically appreciate any honest attempt you make at communicating with them in their native language.
- Be conscious of your body language. Things that you do all the time may have completely different connotations in other cultures. Even handshakes might mean something different in other countries; for some it is customary to bow instead.
- Consideration of Personal Space. It is very important to respect the cultural boundaries relating to personal space. Some cultural dynamics are fine with close personal interaction, while more space is customary with others. Do the research and be sensitive to cultural differences in this area.
- Use of slang and gestures. When using slang words and gestures in a business environment, keep in mind that what means one thing to you might have no meaning, or a very different meaning, in another culture. For example, certain hand gestures, such as pounding your fist in your palm, are considered extremely rude in some cultures.
- Business card etiquette. Exchanging business cards is an essential part of most cultures. The business card is considered an extension of the individual in many places and is treated with great respect. It may be customary to spend time reading someone’s business card when it is handed to you. Taking it and immediately putting in your pocket, or writing on it, can be considered impolite and may be regarded as an insult.
Giving a Presentation
If you are invited to give a presentation in another country, I have some additional tips for you. First, read everything prior to this section and do your homework in those areas.
Second, if there is a translator for your presentation, talk with them well before going on stage; the day before is preferable. Show them ALL material you have, including your notes. They can review your slides or videos to recognize anything that may be offensive to the audience. They may need your help with acronyms or with slang that is used. Tell them about any hand gestures or physical moves you make during a particular part of the presentation so they can be prepared and advise about cultural sensitivity.
Here’s a particularly effective tip. Ask the translator to have someone wave at you from the booth if you are going too fast. If they say that won’t be a problem – they are a good translator, and you can speak at normal speed (but not too fast). If they say yes, they will have someone wave at you if you’re going too fast – they are likely not a world-class translator, which means you definitely need to go slow.
Discuss any humor you may have in your presentation with the translator to make sure the story and the humor is okay. AND… pause for one to two counts after any humor because there will be two waves of laughter. First, it will be those who know the language you are speaking, followed a few seconds later by those who are listening to the translator.
(These recommendations are applicable for both in-person and virtual presentations.)
If you are presenting an in-person keynote at an event, be prepared to have your photo taken a lot. While traveling to other countries, I have found that most people are very respectful and are often very animated in their appreciation of having you attend their event.
When traveling internationally, remember that you are an invited guest in another country. Always act professionally. It is very important to consider, understand, and respect cultural differences when networking and doing business in different places across the globe. May your travel opportunities be enjoyable, memorable, and successful!