Overcoming Cultural Differences When Going Global

International business expansion brings with it lots of change, from new environments to a completely new set of customers. It requires a lot of planning, and some steep learning curves.

For some global businesses, the process is often more of a challenge than it needs to be, simply because cultural nuances and differences are overlooked. Here’s a guide on how to avoid and overcome cultural differences and misunderstandings.

Preparation

When it comes to expanding your business, cultural differences are a huge part of the preparation; from how you market your products and services, to how you conduct meetings, how you talk to customers and colleagues alike, and how you incentivise and talk to employees.

Understanding cultural differences

The culture you’re going into will influence everything from what you say, how you greet people, to how you conduct conversations; it’s not always as black and white as a badly translated advert on the back of a bus.

Some countries are laidback with their approach to conducting business, but each and every country will place slightly different emphases on different apsects. Some countries, such as the UK, enjoy small talk prior to meetings, while other countries see it as wasteful, even inauthentic. Some cultures respond well to constructive criticism in the workplace, while in others, it’s seen as very rude.

For example, using assertive, dominant language might work well in one country, while in another, it could offend. Maintaining eye contact or going in for a handshake might seal a deal in some parts of the world, and cause embarrassment in others.

Some cultures have clearly defined social codes that, if flouted, will most likely offend, while other issues are more nuanced. Either way, there’s no doubt that you do everything to ensure your business and its representatives conduct themselves with respect and integrity in your domestic market, and it’s in your best interests to ensure this translates to your new international markets, too.

Some cultures stick to meeting times by the second, for example, while for others, a time is merely a guideline. To keep on top of this, ensure you show up on time, or early, to be the first to a meeting. This way you can determine how punctual people are, and how formal the meetings are.

Researching the local culture

The best way to approach the cultural differences you’ll face as you expand internationally is to do your research. Take time to learn about the cultural norms and practices by looking online and forming partnerships with local businesses. Most people, including your employees and customers, will appreciate any efforts put into learning about their culture. Also, consider asking your new employees for their thoughts on how best to approach feedback.

And then there’s the new language; putting effort into learning key phrases in the language of your new market will go a long way; even if the official business language is English. You’ll also want to ensure nothing is lost in translation. One way to help mitigate this risk is to follow up with emails clearly outlining everything discussion and decided on in meetings.

Get in touch for advice on how to best approach cultural differences, or any other aspect of international business expansion.

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