Business culture shock

In our increasingly globalized world, more and more professionals find themselves traveling to new places and interacting with foreign peoples, as the companies they work for expand and develop new business relationships. When dealing with these interactions, wether they be brief business trips or visits, or extended stays, it is more important than ever to be aware of the cultural differences and sensitivities of all parties involved in the interaction. Minor cultural faux-pas that are easily overlooked in social interactions can become serious transgressions when applied to the work environment, where important business deals, respect and efficiency are at stake.

Important considerations

Do your prospective partners come from a more individualistic or collectivistic society?

Is structure or flexibility more valued?

What kind of communication style is appreciated?

How much formality is appreciated?


Important considerations

When embarking on a business relationship with members of another culture there are some fundamental points to take into consideration in order to avoid misunderstanding and jeopardizing what could be a beneficial interaction for both groups.

Do your prospective partners come from a more individualistic or collectivistic society?

This is important because it can affect both the way the other company makes decisions, and the way they view you. Americans tend to be more individualistic and can be perceived as aggressive in their business dealings. Collectivistic societies tend to rely on input from a number of people, some, such as in most Hispanic societies, wish to get to know their prospective business partners on a more personal level before actually undertaking business with them. In these cultures it is often considered rude or untrustworthy to skip the small-talk and interact on a strictly professional level.

Is structure or flexibility more valued?

Learning how a culture perceives time and deadlines saves a lot of confusion and frustration for everyone. While some cultures are very strict about scheduling and structure, others perceive these to be less important than actually achieving the established objectives in a satisfactory and thorough manner.

What kind of communication style is appreciated?

While in some cultures strongly expressing emotions during business dealings is acceptable, in others, such as with the Japanese, this is considered an inappropriate loss self-respect. It is useful to find out what kinds of emotional expression are considered negative by the other culture in order to avoid unwittingly making a bad impression.

How much formality is appreciated?

It is also important to know how formally people interact in a working environment. While for some cultures relative informality and familiarity among workmates and/ or superiors is acceptable, for others it is a shocking sign of disrespect and a breach of personal space. While Latin-based cultures are generally noted for their warm behavior, they generally strictly adhere to rules of social propriety as seen by the common use of the third person when addressing superiors or elders. Attempting to dissuade someone from this practice often results in feelings of discomfort and invasion of space, since familiar speech is frequently reserved for family members and close friends only.


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