Business Dimensions | Be a cultural chameleon

February 18th, 2019 | | Business Dimensions

Be a cultural chameleon

Adapting your style to the norms of another culture isn’t being inauthentic – it’s just smart business.

 “Don’t you even care enough about me to write your name?”

If you’ve ever written a short email response with no greeting or signature line to someone from another culture, you might have triggered this response. The quote above was a pet peeve voiced by a Russian attending a seminar by Erin Meyer, author of The Culture Map. A professor at international business school INSEAD, Meyer expertly highlights the importance of cultural differences.

“If you go into every interaction assuming that culture doesn’t matter, your default mechanism will be to view others through your own cultural lens and to judge or misjudge them accord­ingly,” she writes.

For business owners in a globalized world who may one day find themselves negotiating with vendors in Asia, building a new business partnership in Europe or simply leading a diverse team, cultural competence is key. It might mean the difference between a successful negotiation or launch in a new market and a failed one (see Walmart’s flop in Germany or Home Depot’s missteps in China).

A good place to start learning about cultural differences is the quiz Meyer put together at the Harvard Business Review (search What’s Your Cultural Profile at hbr.org). You can also try reading The Culture Map or Leading with Cultural Intel­ligence, the latter by David Livermore, who leads the Cultural Intelligence Center in Michigan.

Livermore details on his blog the many cross-cultural behaviors that could be interpreted as rude. The list is long, everything from looking a superior in the eye (offensive in Nigeria) to not looking someone in the eye (offensive in Canada).

The truth is, all of us need to work on our cross-border business etiquette. “Most all of us adapt how we dress, behave and talk based on the situation. We should do the same thing during intercultural encounters,” Livermore wrote. A keen sense of observation will get you far. “When interacting with someone from another culture, try to watch more, listen more and speak less,” Meyer advises.

Making the effort to respect another person’s culture can be the secret sauce that helps you build strong business relationships. Somewhere out there, success is just a proper email signoff away.

 

Sources: Harvard Business Review, Cultural Intelligence Center
Material created by Raymond James for use by its advisors. The information contained herein has been obtained from sources considered reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Raymond James is not affiliated with any other entity listed herein. © 2019 Raymond James Financial Services, Inc., member FINRA/SIPC. Securities offered through Raymond James Financial Services member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advisory services offered through Raymond James Financial Services Advisors, Inc. 18-BDMKT-3368 CW 1/19

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