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From learning how to respectfully address foreign customers to knowing the appropriate way to accept a business card or begin a meal, there are dozens of subtle cultural differences that can make or break a business deal.
Here are some suggestions to run a culturally sensitive business when working overseas.
"It's not just about learning the do's and taboos," says Terence Brake, director of learning and innovation for TMA World in San Francisco, which develops innovative learning solutions to help organizations, teams and individuals succeed in the increasingly global workplace. "You need to understand why people do what they do, or you can run into trouble."
— Terence Brake, director of learning and innovation for TMA World
Instead of memorizing a list of cultural mistakes to avoid, Brake suggests taking a course on the business culture of the foreign country that covers core assumptions, values and beliefs to understand the rationale behind local cultural differences. "Look for training that goes beneath the surface of food, clothes and manners," Brake says, adding that a focus on the foreign country's underlying motivations is also important.
For example, to maintain harmony in their group-oriented culture, Japanese business people will rarely say "no" to an idea - even if they are against it - because they do not want to be offensive. "They might say 'We need to study this further,' or 'It's complicated,'" he says. "You need to learn how to tell when 'yes' means 'yes.'"
"Learning to make small adaptations in your presentation style can make the difference between getting the deal and not getting the deal," Brake says.
Along with culture-training courses, business owners can join global online groups via LinkedIn industry associations or Facebook group pages, and contact local Department of Trade representatives for guidance and advice on business relationships.
"Employers can post their concerns and requests for advice about doing business in a new country to local business partners, members of their professional communities, trade associations, local chambers of commerce and so forth," says James Berkeley, managing director at Ellice Consulting, a management consulting firm based in London. He often reaches out to members of his personal and professional networks to get advice on potential issues or insight about why a meeting went poorly.
When dealing with customers, the best thing to do is to slow down, ask questions and show respect. "The biggest complaint about Americans overseas is that they lack curiosity," Brake says. "You will be more successful with a potential customer if you inquire about their culture and their country than if you immediately start pitching your product."
Submitting international payments in the foreign currency is another way for business owners to connect on a cultural level. Because foreign partners often appreciate being paid in their foreign currencies, business owners who are frequently working overseas should consider sending money transfers to China, Japan and around the globe with the services of a trusted online foreign exchange provider.
Example: 1USD = xx INR
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