In the world of business, English is widely acknowledged as the universal language. However, despite using a common language, it is not uncommon for misunderstandings to occur. Differences in cultural and business practices mean that business travelers should be aware of varying customs, etiquette and cultural differences when conducting business abroad.
When conducting international business, it is extremely important for business representatives to be aware of different cultural beliefs and behaviour. After all, behaviour which might be considered normal in a UK boardroom could be radically different to behaviour expected in Saudi Arabia or China. As a result, failure to understand foreign business practices and customs can create insurmountable barriers to successful business relations. Conversely, taking a little time to learn these cultural differences can reap rewards and help build strong business relationships.
The age-old saying “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” is sometimes a wise adage to bear in mind when conducting business with foreign clients. In the UK, for example, meetings are often business-like and tend to follow a rigid time-based structure where points are debated at given times. However, in Japan and other Asian countries, there is great importance attached to courtesy and hospitality which can cause delays and prevent keeping to a strict schedule.
Certainly, in many parts of Asia, forming a personal relationship in your business dealings is very important. Although it can take time to build, once a relationship has been developed, it tends to last for a very long time and can be advantageous over the more ‘shallow’ relationships found in Europe and the United States. In some business cultures, establishing friendships can be a potent business tool, so it is important to take the time to establish such relationships with prospective clients.
Another important cultural difference to observe is the difference in greeting business counterparts. In the UK, a firm hand-shake is considered polite as is making brief eye-contact. In China, bowing or nodding is the common greeting, and although shaking hands is becoming a popular form of greeting, this should be initiated by the host.
Personal space should also be observed according to the dominant culture. In the UK and Europe, personal space is valued and an acceptable distance should be kept. However, in some southern European countries and Asia, personal space is much decreased so that what could be perceived as intimate in the north is akin to normal conversational distance in the south.
Regardless of the location of business meetings, whether in the boardroom of a London Company or the restaurant of a business hotel in Dubai, it is important to be aware of the many cultural differences that exist between east and west, north and south. While some traits are worldwide, such as ensuring punctuality at the start of a meeting, other traits are much more subtle. Taking the time to understand those traits and the differences in cultural and business etiquette can mean the difference between business success and an unsigned contract.
Article Author: Adam Singleton
Adam Singleton is an online, freelance journalist and keen amateur photographer. His portfolio, called Capquest Photography is available to view online.
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