As technology continues to shrink the world, modern businesses are no longer separated by distance. Those operating on a global scale, however, must still respect and adapt to diverse cultures. To be successful, today’s business students need to learn those differences while in school, or they risk beginning their careers behind the ball at a time when employers demand they keep pace.

People are more exposed to other cultures and languages and get to see so many varieties of beliefs, value systems, and lifestyles. Without considering others and their varied impressions of needs and wants, you won’t be able to understand them.

Face-To-Face Interactions

Although contracts and other agreements can all be exchanged and signed electronically, face-to-face interactions still take place every day, and sometimes the differences between cultures can seem as big as the globe.

Culturally, eastern countries value interdependent relationships significantly. They trust their social and personal relationships and include it in their work setting.

Some agreements on projects or contracts are done verbally and only based on the mutual trust, without being written officially. You have to know the game as where to trust and where to make it official. Sometimes, this trust rewards you with something above and beyond your expectations. And sometimes, if you don’t do it right, it surprises you with losses and regrets.

Successful face-to-face interactions rely heavily on understanding the culture of your client or partner – language, mannerisms, whether or not to shake with your right or left hand, whether to bring a gift or exchange business cards, etc. Immersing yourself in these customs will lead to more successful communication.

An Organizational Perspective

On a larger scale, conducting business internationally means companies must have advanced knowledge of the macro-level forces that can impact their bottom line, including government, the economy, and technology.

Assume Walmart or another major retailer is going to build stores in a foreign country, it is important that the general environment be completely understood. Employee wage rates, demographics, currency exchange rates, etc. – if these are not planned for, some business drivers will be adversely impacted.

Another difference is the existence of hierarchies. In organizations, hierarchies slow down the process of creative thinking and prolong all types of decision-making. It also hinders adaptability and agility to change. Tasks get stuck in hierarchies and bureaucracies, and you (while having no control over the situation) should only sit and wait until it gets going.

While technology will continue to be the primary driver of change for businesses, that’s unlikely to impact long-held beliefs and traditions. Learning, understanding, and respecting cultural differences help students communicate more effectively and be more successful. For employers and employees, failing to embrace the diversity of allies and competitors can lead to lost opportunities and impact sales, profits, or even the survival of their company in another country.


Written by Bill Davis and Dr. Avisha Sadeghinejad

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