Technological advancement is bringing people closer together, allowing us to reach others from all over the globe with just a few clicks. With this new wave of interconnectedness comes the merging of various cultures in business. According to the 2016 Global Human Capital Trends, 82% of professionals believe that cultural diversity is a competitive advantage for a business. It not only allows a business to have more opportunities for expansion, but also keeps them fresh with new ideas and perspectives. Here are some tips on how to best handle cultural differences in a global company.
Maintain adaptable communication
Communication is the key to success for any business, whether you are operating nationally or internationally. However, when operating with different cultures, language barriers are almost inevitable. Statements like “I don’t see color. I’m color-blind,” may be perceived by some as not only untrue but offensive. How is it possible to truly value people who bring different experiences, backgrounds and strengths to the table if you don’t ‘see’ them?
A quick observation of the American landscape shows that even in 2019, segregation clearly exists in neighborhoods, schools, professions and peer groups. In one 2014 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute, 75% of whites polled had no friends outside of their racial group.
Communication that seems to ignore or downplay the existence (and hence, value) of cultural, economic and social differences may cause more harm than good. Try to recognize and respect each culture’s unique way of communicating.
Gestures that are commonplace in your own country, like making eye to eye contact and shaking hands firmly, may be taken as offensive or unusual by your foreign clients or business partners. As many business coaches will tell you, it is critical for you to remember the proper professional interactions when dealing with different cultures. Doing research on accepted and proper business etiquette is important.
Etiquette in the workplace
Learn the formality of address when dealing with foreign business partners and colleagues. In some cultures, it is all right to address a person you’ve recently met by their first name, while in other countries, they would rather that you address them by their surname or their title. Remember that not all people enjoy the same type of food. If toasting someone in your organization, remember that some religions forbid alchohol. Offering food and beverage options to a diverse workforce speaks volumes.
Punctuality is something that is relative. When you deal with business partners, clients or colleagues from the United States, South Korea, Japan and Russia, you are expected to be on time. In Germany, you are even expected to be at least 10 minutes early for your appointment. However, in some Asian countries, a set meeting time is a general estimate. Arriving 20-30 minutes late is accepted practice.
Cultural norms dictate the attitudes towards management and organizational hierarchy. In some cultures, junior staff and people in middle management may or may not be allowed to speak up during meetings. In some countries, it is difficult to question decisions by senior officers or express opinions that are different from the rest. It is best to know these general attitudes in advance, in order to get a better grasp of what to expect in a business meeting. Also, keep records on how often your organization relies on social networks and personal connections to fill positions. If the majority of employees at an organization are composed of one particular race, sociological studies show that they will recommend people like them.
As businesses shift talent markets and look to expand, cultural diversity is inevitable. A key to being successful in business is to acknowledge the beneficial role of culture in the workplace. Enhancing your level of understanding of international cultural differences in business will give your business a significant competitive advantage for global success.