Cultural knowledge is key to international success, exporters told

Jun 06, 2012


The event, hosted by banking giant HSBC and business advisers Mazars, outlined the importance of being aware of the different business cultures and customs across the world.
Mazars international partner David Sayers (pictured) said: “Individuals need to think about the way they interact with those from other countries. The way you treat businesspeople around the world can directly impact profit.
“We need to think about our communication and behaviour, each time we interact with somebody from another culture. It is a fascinating subject, vital to anyone trading internationally,”
Guest speaker Keith Warburton, founder of Global Business Culture,  explained how a good communication style in one country can be considered inappropriate in another. 
For example, in Italy, talking more than we do in Britain is a sign of intelligence and a good background. If you do not verbally express yourself in these business environments, it could come across as disinterest, Mr Warburton said. In contrast, German, Swedish and Finnish people tend to use a much lower volume of language.
Mr Warburton said: “When you enter a multi-cultural business environment, consider what the appropriate amount and use of language should be. It will support your ability to establish long-term and trusting relationships.”
In many Asian countries, modesty is a highly respected characteristic. If a Western business is recruiting a local salesperson in Japan, the drive and ambition required is atypical of the indigenous culture. “You would need to look for somebody who is adept at interfacing within both Asian and Western commercial environments,” Mr Warburton said.
In the USA, Germany and the Netherlands it is customary to put business before relationships. In areas of strong economic growth such as China, South America and Southern Europe, relationships are prioritised over business.
In ‘business first’ countries, if a product and price is right the prospect will purchase. In ‘relationship first’ countries, an offering could be perfect but a prospect may want to get to know you to see if you are the kind of person they want to trade with.
Mr Warburton advised that if you come across a potential disagreement in Japan, drop the subject and concentrate on building the relationship. In the meantime devise a strategy that will produce your preferred outcome in this behavioural environment.
“Also, consider if it’s honourable to send a contract written in a foreign language after you have verbally agreed to do something. Senior managers need to understand that this could be seen as disrespectful by many non-English speakers,” commented Keith.
He also warned that humour does not travel or translate well and should only be used in UK-centric countries such as the USA.
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