Value of Cultural Awareness in International Business

There are few people in business today who are not affected by globalization, from billionaires all the way to hole-in-the-wall restaurant owners. The world has become an interconnected web of trade spanning intellectual property to food products, textiles, furniture and everything in between. For anyone who desires to achieve any level of success in our modern society, the ability to transcend cultural and language barriers is as vital as the ability to do basic mathematics.

All too frequently, potentially successful business deals are thwarted by simple misunderstandings caused by misread facial expressions, body language and vocal tones. While each country and culture is certainly allowed their individual mannerisms and characteristics, in brokering deals, both sides ideally should be willing to put forth effort towards meeting in the middle. A little effort to understand the mind frame of your counterparts goes a long way towards building good will and a more favorable environment towards success.

While not all of us have the time or ability to immerse in another culture’s way of life and learn many foreign languages, there are simple and inexpensive steps we can all take to increase our international business culture savvy. From the books I recommend below to the best and most inexpensive way to learn- from friends, there’s nothing stopping any of us from gaining at least fundamental knowledge of various cultures to equip us for doing business successfully in this flat world. Don’t underestimate the immense value of your friends. Most of us living in metropolitan cities have friends from all walks of life with a wealth of cultural knowledge, just waiting to be taken advantage of. Turn each of your friends into your professors and vice versa. We all have knowledge to learn and share.

Find out how to properly bow in Japan; why you shouldn’t turn down tea in China; find out the best times to reach people in Spain and Italy; what is appropriate attire in Saudi Arabia; how to address elders in Korea. Success is always in the little details.

Book Recommendations

Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands
By Terri Morrison and Wayne A. Conaway

Bridging the Culture Gap: A Practical Guide to International Business Communication
By Penny Fox and Chris Fox

The World’s Business Cultures and How to Unlock Them
By Barry Tomalin and Mike Nicks