Many of us traveled the world and came in contact with different cultures while conducting business internationally. While we frequently interact with many foreign units, often we are puzzled by the synergy we encounter. Don't you find it being challenging to understand at times?
If you are not certain as to what "Cultural Awareness" term really means and how it could help you with a global work environment, perhaps this article is just for you. You may be surprised once you go through the last paragraph and actually change the way you have been conducting business until now.
International encounters, whether in global business settings of our personal interaction come with so-called "culture shock" for many people. It is a very natural feeling to experience at some point when we meet others we know little or nothing about. And there is a way to either eliminate it or at least minimize the impact of it.
So, what is a culture shock?
The best to describe this phenomenon in my opinion; is to take under consideration that it exists mainly as a result of limited interpersonal interactions, lack of education or ingrained stereotypes of our society we agree to absorb and are not willing to correct. It is somewhat lack of perception supported by facts. It all lays deep in mindsets of those who fail to take time to understand it and who share their views with us. And there comes a delusion followed by some inconsistencies...
Culture seems to be very simple, yet it is so very complex from every angle you approach it. It's the way you think, act and interact with others. It is a written map that offers guidance through the journey we begin when we conduct business on a global arena. We must learn how to acknowledge the differences and be willing to learn about them, sometimes even embrace and absorb them in order to succeed in our communication effort. In other words, such approach can allow us to integrate the present distortion more appropriately and helps guiding us effectively where we want to go with the international business deal.
Being culturally sensitive (in other words: exhibiting cultural awareness) is crucial in contributing to anyone's global success in the marketplace. Only then we can understand the magical "WHY". Unfortunately, all of this does not happen over night. This complicated process forces us to get exposure to new perspectives; and that itself can pose challenges or even create a feeling of uncertainty because we do not like the unknown, we are only comfortable with what we know as humans. It is almost like walking in someone's else shoes...
And this is where we "crack" the untouched surface...
Practice What Globally Matters to Business
Processes and policies, advertising campaigns and communication are all part of the business acumen contributing to one's impact. When dealing with international audience, we must remember to put aside the habits and patterns we have absorbed domestically. We must " break out of our shell". Being respectful can help build an appreciation for cultural and social differences, and therefore ultimately strengthens our brand as a result of it. Unfortunately, integration of such cultural sensitivity into business dealings takes practice. And we must find patience to succeed. Thinking of cultural sensitivity as a form of personal respect can help us open up to these differences. Isn't being respectful to others the most important aspect in nourishing cultural sensitivity and being successful on a global arena? How we treat others in personal life, as well as in professional business encounters; is a reflection of who we are. Let's look in the mirror then....
The Process, The Mirror and Biases
So, how do we approach the process of becoming culturally sensitive and how to we face our reflection?
First and most importantly, we need to focus on our personal awareness. Yes, it all starts with us. We need to face the reflection we see in "the mirror". Our understanding of the culture we are unfamiliar with, whether it is by researching the cultural facts online, asking questions about the common foreign business practices or reading books about it is an indicator of who we are and how seriously we approach business deals. Knowing a bit of history and ability to relate to it can be helpful when meeting a business partner who we know nothing about.
Secondly, we need to put our biases aside as when differences are more visible than similarities, we tend to get defensive and make wrong judgements based on our standards and lack of knowledge in certain areas. This can only create more distortion in our communication rather than help us understand or be understood. One must never ignore the culture of the other person as it is who they are and how they act and react. Our communication effort should be truly focused on strengthening to understand people coming from different backgrounds, people who are different than we are. The more we decide to interact with others, the more we can understand any unfamiliar culture we encounter. There is no room for ambiguity, just genuine engagement with the purpose of understanding in mind. We enrich our lives by learning about others and we open our souls for humanity to speak.
Thirdly, we need to focus on building meaningful relationships and nurturing trust with lots of patience. If we are not certain of the situation, we should ask questions looking for clarity. We need to allow others to take their time answering our inquiries. Perhaps looking into practicing inclusiveness to the certain expend? This process has no room for assumptions as they often result in fiascos and can ruin business deals. We must allow it and therefore give time to understand our business partner's perception based on their cultural background, gender, or even religion. Let's practice patience and effective communication techniques, no passiveness, just gentle assertive approach with plenty of respect.
Engaging Interpreters and Translators
So, we now know the culture and history of our business partner, but we do not know how to communicate and close the business deal...What do we do next? This is where trained linguists become very handy. Any area where language is a main communication barrier preventing us from closing an international deal, one can be culturally sensitive by using either interpreters (in any verbal communications) or translators (help with written materials, documents, brochures, etc). Cultural gap can be easily fulfilled with skilled professionals who understand diversity and are passionate about effective communication aspects in the work they do. They can be our key to the cultural diversity door we do not quite know how to open.
Importance of doing our "Homework"
Cultural inclusiveness of a successful business environment truly depends on the interactions we chose to adapt. The more "homework" we do beforehand, the better we are prepared to handle our business partners with dignity, respect, and grace. We must research, engage, sometimes even set up guidelines to follow, always be ready to challenge any assumptions not supported by facts and most of all, remain open-minded at all times. Sharing the journey with the business partner on many cultural levels, understanding their business perspective and intervening; when necessary for the clarity of the thoughts; is what will make the business encounter pleasurable and successful for both parties. Sometimes, even looking into given information in more depth before signing the contract can offer an alternative to inaccurate conclusions. The key is to make it clear to communicate, understand and agreeable for both parties involved.
Is there a recipe for success?
Properly facilitating the cultural content and learning about it's impact on any business unit you engage with is an essential component in a recipe for success while biases and prejudice can only harm your business and stop you on your way to a successful and meaningful partnership you could develop on global arena. It is ultimately your decision what initiative you decide to undertake and the impact you intend to make conducting business internationally. Clear business acumen and solid understanding of the industry trends will drive your rewarding engagement with foreign business partners as long as cultural awareness is truly meaningful to you at all times.