Blog, Doing business in..., How-to

October 10, 2023

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Have you ever thought about going to a foreign country to work there? Bet you have!

And here comes the question… how should you behave with your partners? What is the right way to build a rapport with foreigners? How to conduct good negotiations?

With this article, we start a series of tips and tricks that will definitely help you when doing business internationally! Our amazing MeetnGreeter Anastasia shared her expertise in intercultural communication to give you some basic rules on how to do business abroad.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do - goes a popular adage. This one short line says a lot about how one could develop a winning mindset while doing business in a foreign country.

Most businesses today, especially those in the digital field, try to take advantage of how small the world has become thanks to technology and the Internet.
This could mean hiring overseas, serving clients abroad, and/or partnering with companies anywhere in the world. Still, working abroad could be very challenging.

A key to being successful in business internationally is to understand the role of culture in international business. That is why it is important to understand that what people do and say in a particular culture, whether it be yours or that of your host country, are not arbitrary and spontaneous, but are consistent with what people in that culture value and believe in.

Whatever sector you are operating in, cultural differences will have a direct impact on your profitability. Improving your level of knowledge of international cultural differences in business can aid in building international competencies as well as enabling you to gain a competitive advantage. Having a resourceful local who is aware of all the cultural nuances can be really beneficial, so don’t hesitate to request insights on local business ethics from local personal assistants, just leave your request here.

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Let’s start with the basics!

1. Do your homework

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Preparation is essential once it involves society’s communication. whether or not you’ll be collaborating with colleagues from the UK or traveling to a conference in Japan, take time to analyze cultural variations in communication to grasp the nuances of each culture and also the one you’ll be partaking with. From how you introduce yourself to your overall tone when writing e-mail, you may be surprised by how everyday business etiquette differs from culture to culture.

2. Mind low and high context cultures

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Different cultures communicate through varying levels of context.

High-context cultures also prefer personal bonds and informal agreements over meticulously worded legal documents. They are looking for meaning and understanding in what is not said — in body language, in silences and pauses, and in relationships and empathy.

Meanwhile, low-context cultures place emphasis on sending and receiving accurate messages directly, and by being precise with spoken or written words. Communication between two businesspersons from a low-context culture tends to be more specific and direct. Attention focuses more on what is said than relationships. In China or Japan, words receive less attention than relationships, mutual understandings, and nonverbal body language.

It is estimated that 70% of the world is high-context. Examples of high context countries include Japan, China, and Arab countries. Examples of low context cultures include Scandinavia, Germany, and the US.

It should, however, be noted that not all the characteristics described above and below apply to all cultures described as either high or low context. Clearly, it’s important for a multinational organization to know the difference between high and low context cultures. A full understanding of these differences will effectively improve both outward, client-focused communication as well as inter-business relationships.

Will a company in Japan appreciate your attempts to get right to the point? Will a German company become bored if you talk around a subject, instead of directly addressing it?

Know your audience and their cultural standing, and your message will never get lost.

3.Differing Meanings of Cues

Small things matter!
Western and Eastern cues have substantially different meanings in business. Even such small things as the word “yes” can mean different things depending on the culture. In Western cultures, “yes” usually means an agreement. In Eastern and high-context cultures, however, the word “yes” often means that the party understands the message, not necessarily that he agrees with it.

That is why it is crucial not to make a quick decision while communicating with the business partner from another country if you hear „yes“ from him. This can be just an expression of agreement with you.

The same rule works with non-verbal communication. A handshake in some cultures is as ironclad as an American contract. A period of silence
during negotiations with an Eastern business associate may even signify displeasure with your offer.

While frank openness may be desirable in Western cultures, Eastern cultures often place more value on saving face and avoiding disrespectful responses trying to stay polite while negotiating.

4. Mind your tone!

In some countries, like the United States and Germany, it is common for people to speak loudly and be more assertive or aggressive when sharing ideas or giving directions. You should not get offended by that, as this comes from cultural habits.

Still, in countries like Japan, people typically speak softly and are more passive about sharing ideas or making suggestions.

When interacting with people from different cultures, speaking in a neutral tone and making a conscious effort to be considerate of others’ input, even if it is given in a manner to which you are not accustomed, can help foster effective business communication.

5. Silence is not that bad

Another factor that affects trust-building is the comfort of silence.

In some countries, a few seconds of silence make the conversation uncomfortable. This happens in countries where the comfort of silence is low, such as in France, Italy and the United States.

In Asian countries like Korea, Indonesia, and Japan, however, the comfort of silence is high, which often results in Asians not being able to often speak during business meetings with people from Western countries. Asians are not likely to feel uncomfortable if the conversation stops for as long as 30 seconds. Just give some time and be patient, not trying to say anything that will help to break the silence.

And in case you want to be fully prepared for the meeting with your international colleagues, don’t hesitate to ask those who know all the nuances best – local professionals!

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One response to “Doing Business Abroad: The First 5 Things You Need to Know About Intercultural Differences”

  1. Victor says:

    Thanks for sharing. Very interesting.

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