Do not wear a cultural blindfold when doing business away from home
Just because you have been successful doing business at home does not necessarily mean that you will be successful elsewhere. Depending on which continent you need to travel to, you really ought to make sure that besides having a little of the local currency with you, also make sure you mentally prepare for the difference in how business folks expect you to behave. Sure, most hosts will cut you some slack because you are a visitor, but you will not get a free ride card and you may not be able going home with a contract if you do not know what to expect and how to behave.
Below please find a few examples for traveling and doing business in Europe and Asia.
- Presentations. In North America the bullet pointed PowerPoint without tons of painfully detailed charts, analyses, graphs, etc are the norm. Dare you not use plenty of fact filled slides especially in Europe. Why? You will simply not come across as a professional if you do not do that in your presentation.
- Communication. Face to face communication in North America and Western Europe lets you make good, solid eye to eye contact. In Asia this may be considered rude. You may not hear the word “no” muttered in negotiations in most of Asia. That does not mean “yes” eithers. “Yes” merely means a firm maybe.
- Language. If you know the language of the country you are visiting, use it. If you know only know a little and perhaps a few terms and catch phrases then do not use it. It is very easy to offend your hosts. When you stay in English do yourself and your hosts a huge favor: Refrain from using colloquialisms like “On the nose!”, “Six to one, half a dozen to another”, etc. You will catch yourself explaining this in painful detail and your initial point may completely get lost.
- Appointments. While in North America it may be tolerated if you are a few minutes late, do not be late in Europe, and especially Germany. Show up between 5 and 10 Minutes early and your success rate will go up. In other parts of the world you may find yourself having to show up on time when your host maybe in fact a half hour late and that is considered normal and to be expected. Do not comment on this to your host and heaven forbid make a big deal out of it.
- Project management. Here maybe the most significant difference when you need to work with clients in Europe, but especially in Germany. A project in North America will focus on a big picture, a vision, its mission, and perhaps each individual step leading the project to success is briefly mentioned. Management will typically expect that some adaptations and amendments to the plan need to be made along the way of a project. Under no circumstance should you do this in Europe. Here make sure that the big picture is as detail oriented as possible. The end state is expected to be described in great detail with financial numbers and pretty exact outcome and the costs as well as manpower that go along with it. Consider hiring a well-known and respected industry consultancy backing you up, or simply providing you with the data back and solid reasoning for your strategy and tactics.
My short list is meant to merely provide you with a little bit more awareness when you travel and do business in other regions of our Globe. There are so many more points that I did not even mention here: Food, gifts, gender roles in other countries, dress codes, social gatherings, parties, transportation, etc.
There is an excellent book about this topic, which I have often consulted before going to another country. It is called “Kiss, bow, and shake hands” by Terri Morrison. All you can do is taking your cultural awareness blindfold off. You will enjoy your trips much more and are destined to be more successful as well. Have a good trip!