As you board the plane to head back home, you can tell that something’s missing. It isn’t your toothbrush or even a snow globe for your kids.
The meetings just didn’t seem to go as well as you had expected. The potential clients were polite. But, you have the sensation after walking out of the room someone would say, “Can you believe what that American said?”
This is an all too common occurrence. Most of us just don’t do global well. It’s not just a lack of foreign languages or the jet lag.
We didn’t grow up in a country that offered much exposure to other nations, how they think, work, and live. There are several simple steps you can use to improve the impact of your international business trips.
Related Article: So International: Business Etiquette From Around the World
Focus on Relationships
The first and most important thing you can do when traveling overseas is to focus on relationships, before diving into business. In our rush to maximize efficiency, Americans have forgotten how to invest in understanding and engaging people. In many parts of the world, this remains an important element of doing business. Spending time to get to know someone, asking questions about their family, country and culture can go a long way to getting started on the right foot.
Bring a Gift
It doesn’t have to be anything expensive, but it sets the right tone and tells someone with whom you have few connections, “I want to invest in this relationship.” I often recommend pocket dictionaries. They are practical. Instead of being discarded, they likely find a prominent place on your potential client’s shelf. When they see or use it, you’ll hopefully come to mind.
Next, speak slower and more quietly. Americans don’t speak internationally. We toss in lots of slang and local references which can make it much more difficult to understand, even if someone speaks English well. We tend to talk louder than other cultures, especially when we think we aren’t being understood. Volume often isn’t the issue and can reinforce stereotypes. Use your hands and provide more context to get your point across. Finally, don’t be scared of silence. Americans try to fill pauses. Many other cultures appreciate them.
Know Your History
Study the past. History lives on in many countries. If you want to understand why a market makes some of the unusual decisions it does, look at where it came from and what issues continue to exert influence on its society. It’s in part to gain an awareness of old conflicts and challenges. Yet it can also involve finding new opportunities that are buried in the past. Showing you have taken the time to study their history is universally appreciated and can even provide you with a comparative advantage.
Summarize Your Future Goals
As the meeting draws to a close, summarize what you believe are the next steps. Especially if it’s early in the process, don’t go overboard in trying to push toward an agreement. Americans tend to move faster than others in finalizing a deal. Instead, you want to identify one or two concrete next steps that can build confidence and your relationship.
Bond Before Business
More than talk, offer something tangible. Communicate clearly and be conscious of the context. Understand the past and make pragmatic plans for the future. These are a few key strategies that can help you to overcome obstacles and effectively engage overseas. They were the tools and tactics I used as a diplomat for many years. Whether negotiating with rebel leaders in Africa or those loyal to Saddam Hussein in Tikrit, employing these techniques proved successful to build trust and eventually arrive at a deal.