Most businesses today, especially those in the digital field, operate internationally. This could mean hiring overseas, serving clients abroad, and/or partnering with companies anywhere in the world. Still, as we know, working abroad could be very challenging due to several factors, but mostly because of intercultural differences and nuances in business etiquette.
With this article, we continue our series with some tips and tricks on how to do business abroad. Our amazing MeetnGreeter Anastasia shared her expertise in intercultural communication to give you some deeper understanding of how to do business abroad. In case you missed the first part with The Basics, here it is!
And in case you need any kind of assistance before or during your business trip, feel free to leave your request here.
Let’s dive into the details!
1. Is business about humor?
Humor may often help to take the heat out of the situation, still what is funny varies among cultures. Each has different styles of irony. Investigate humor norms in a country where you will do business. The British like puns and irony with a straight face. Germans find humor is not often appropriate in business, their politicians do not joke in public and self-deprecating humor does not go over well. Humor in business is rare in Japan as Japanese people prefer more serious negotiations. Yet each person in culture is unique.
In China, Japan, and other Asian countries, people love slapstick comedy like Mr. Bean. But using this kind of self-deprecating humor yourself, playing the buffoon, could cause you to lose face; your colleagues will wonder why you are laughing at your own expense unless you know one another particularly well.
Russians, on the other hand, will laugh at themselves, their sense of melancholy, their enjoyment of drink and the state of their country. Australians are also not really afraid to mock themselves, and others.
As far as the Arabs are concerned, they can have a fine sense of self-deprecating humor, while Indians love satirical jokes about family and society.
Laughter is a wonderful thing, but remember the old adage: If in doubt, leave it out.
2. Managing emails and phone calls
Telephone conferences can be very effective in improving business communication and cooperation within international companies. However, sometimes problems can arise when participants don’t know what to expect from each other.
Let’s look at how different cultures might approach this kind of communication – perhaps Brazilian people need some personal contact before acting or would like to know the benefits of providing information.
Small talk can be extremely important for Americans to build relationships and this is a great tip to ask „How are you doing?“ before getting down to business with Americans.
British people might use English humor, whereas Chinese colleagues may want to check with the group or boss before responding.
If there are no sensitive issues involved, it’s a good idea to use emails to communicate information beforehand, taking care to respect cultural differences when addressing people (for example, the use of first names in the US, and titles in Austria).
3. Do not be late!
Surprisingly, being late is perceived differently depending on the country and its business etiquette.
South Koreans value punctuality a lot, so always make sure you are on time for any business meetings, if you are running late, whatever the reason, call ahead to let the other party know.
In China, it is not considered being late if you arrive 10 minutes of the agreed time.
Thanks to its industrial past, in Germany you are expected to arrive at least 10 minutes early for any scheduled meeting.
In Saudi Arabia time is not such an important commodity, with people frequently turning up half an hour late to meetings. Looking at your watch during an event is also considered to be impolite.
When making a social appointment in Brazil, you are not required to be there on time unless the phrase ‘English time’ is used, which means you have to be punctual.
In Ghana, most meeting times are considered to be flexible, even if an exact time is given. It can very often mean at any point during that day. Likewise, punctuality is not seen as a virtue in India. People appreciate it but it may not be reciprocated.
Anyway, try not to be late for your business meeting and you will never fail!
While communicating with your business partners or colleagues, this is important to mind the attitude to self-recognition, as some people need praise and value it a lot.
Latinos, for instance, are usually taught to work hard and keep their heads down. They are taught that they will be recognized by their hard work. Do not forget to compliment them and you will win it! But the reality in workplaces across America is that people who fail to speak about their accomplishments are often passed over for promotion. The principle being that in order for someone to think of you when there’s an opportunity, they need to know what you’re good at and what you could do for the project they have in mind.
So the key, in this case, is to learn to balance your need to remain humble with cultural differences in the workplace that demand that you talk about your achievements if you want to move forward in your career and build good relationships with people from other cultures.
5. What matters: Future vs Present vs Past Orientation
Sometimes it is important to understand the value of the culture towards time as it can be crucial while making decisions and planning the working process.
Past-oriented societies are concerned with traditional values and ways of doing things. They tend to be conservative in management and slow to change those things that are tied to the past. Past-oriented societies include China, Britain, Japan, and most Spanish- speaking Latin American countries.
Present-oriented societies include the rest of the Spanish-speaking Latin American countries. They see the past as passed and the future as uncertain. They prefer short-term benefits.
Future-oriented societies have a great deal of optimism about the future. They do think they understand it and can shape it through their actions. Such societies view management as a matter of planning, doing and controlling (as opposed to going with the flow, letting things happen). The United States and, increasingly, Brazil, are examples of future-oriented societies.
In trying to appreciate the differences between your culture and the local one, you may feel that you’re supposed to like and accept all these differences. Cultural sensitivity, however, means knowing about and respecting the norms of the local culture, not necessarily liking them.
The goal in cross-cultural training is to increase your understanding, to give you a great set of skills, a framework to make sense of whatever you do and experience so that you will be able to interact successfully with people from other cultures and work with them successfully.
Following the tips, mentioned above, will help you to make a good first impression and to lead your business with the representatives of other cultures successfully.
In case you need a deeper understanding of business ethics in a certain country, feel free to leave your request and we’ll find you a resourceful local assistant to help you with your business trip!