How to Overcome Cultural Differences at an International Company

By ugh
Business.com / Strategy / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

The best way to work with a team of multicultural employees is by educating yourself first. Here's how to approach it.

Cultural differences can have a huge impact a professional career as certain actions can change perceptions of an employee.

An employee cannot plead ignorance when working in a multicultural workplace as one should strive to embrace the cultures in the office and learn about them.

There are plenty of ways that you can thrive in the international business setting just by being open to learning about new people as well as places.

The following are some tactics that will help overcome cultural differences at an international company.

Related Article:Global Domination: Reinventing Your Small Business in an Ever-Expanding International Marketplace

Education

The best way to become an expert multicultural employee is by educating yourself. When in a new place you are going to have to experience many things before understanding the culture of your fellow employees. Something as simple as taking a few minutes to learn about cultural norms or practices can have you looking like an expert in a matter of weeks.

Coworkers will appreciate the effort you are making to learn about their culture so you might get a free pass if you make a mistake. Many people find it disrespectful to not make an effort to learn about their cultures so it is better to be safe than sorry.

Communication

Communication is of the utmost importance in international business. The language barrier is something that can stunt growth when working with an international company. The ability to speak various languages gives you the ability to work in more places around the world. Communication with clients is also extremely important as expectations have to be clearly set. 

The tone of a statement or even the body language something is said with can completely change the meaning to certain cultures. Germans speak loudly when sharing ideas while the Japanese speak softly. This can save you from being considered the loud American if doing business in Asia.

The formality of communication differs from country to country. Some countries are laid back in their approaches to communication as they like to build relationships while others just get right to business. Australians place a lot of emphasis on building relationships so thwarting small talk before getting to business can give off the wrong idea. 

Even the gifts that are given should be monitored as it might be frowned upon to send corporate gifts. Always side with sending conservative gifts when unsure how your client will receive it. Gifts Less Ordinary has a post about not sending boring corporate gifts which makes sense as they are based in Australia which businesspeople are known to be relaxed. The Japanese have a whole guide on how to hand a person a business card so siding with the conservative gift for Japanese clients might be the best idea.

Related Article:So International: Business Etiquette From Around the World

How To Communicate Effectively:

  • Learn the language of the country that you are in. English is a language that is spoken around the world but people like to make deals in their native tongue.
  • Send emails after every meeting outlining everything so nothing is lost in translation.

Value of Time

This is something that many people have trouble with when doing business or transferring to South America. Often appointments are just a general guidelines rather than a hard deadline to be some place. Germans, on the other hand, take punctuality very seriously and every minute counts. Knowing something like this before doing business in an area of the world is quite important. Someone being 15 minutes late to a meeting can be annoying but it is nothing to get upset about as this is just what they do in some places.

How To Deal With This:

  • Regardless of where you are doing business, it is important to show up on time or early to the first few meetings. This will allow you to see how punctual people are and how formal the meetings are.
  • Build in a buffer of time before other meetings or other tasks for the day. This will allow you to relax and not worry about the tardiness of a client.

Confrontation

Cultures handle confrontation in the workplace in very different ways. For example, Germans are more confrontational that those in the United States when it comes to disagreements according to the Harvard Business Review.

Reprimanding people in certain countries has to be direct while in others they like to bring up something a person is doing well to soften the blow of the thing they aren’t doing well. This can be a difficult thing to assess as each culture is very different. Workers in India respond better to harsh reprimands rather than skirting around the subject like many millennial based offices.

How To Handle This

  • A great thing to do is to survey everyone about how they want to be dealt with. This might conflict with certain managerial styles but it is a great way to find out how people want to be confronted. Some want to be directly told what they are doing terribly while others want to be built up before they are knocked down.
  • As a manager or high ranking employee, it is possible for you to dictate how confrontation will be handled so writing up expectations and reprimands for not living up to these expectations can be a great guide for employees.
  • Let your employees know your pet peeves and what you would like to stress as a manager. This allows employees to see where you are coming from rather than guessing what your thoughts are on certain issues.

Related Article:Going Global: Building an International Footprint as a SMB

As you can see many of these tips start with being mindful of the different cultures are you. Those who are flexible and can mend into a culture quickly might be seen up upper management to be flexible enough to take a promotion in another country. International business is an exciting venture to be a part of so enjoy it and make sure to be culturally aware.

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