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Managing Cultural Differences in Business

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One of the most common themes we hear when providing management consulting to Perth businesses is how difficult it is to adjust to cultural differences, both inside and outside the workplace. Most businesses are diverse within the workplace, and many executives meet with other executives from foreign countries on a regular basis.

Whatever the situation, it is important to acknowledge and honour cultural differences when conducting any kind of business. Not knowing how to deliver your message in the “language” of the intended target may result in miscommunication, and even an accidental insult or slight. Here are a few things to remember about cultural differences.

Communication

Things such as tone and volume of voice, hand-shaking, and even eye contact are different from culture to culture. For example, an American will look you directly in the eye, while someone from China will prefer indirect eye contact. Many cultures practise loud, direct speech, while others prefer a softer tone, and may talk indirectly.

Time

Some cultures are punctual, while others see specific appointment times as guidelines or suggestions, as opposed to being etched in stone.

Customs

A bow or a handshake can be seen as courteous or offensive, depending upon the country of origin. Body language is very specific to the country of origin, and can sometimes differ within a country by region.

Political considerations

Politics differ greatly from one person to the next, even within one country. When many countries are added into the mix, the likelihood of someone taking offence to a political statement is even greater. Consider, for example, the role of women in Australia, compared to in a predominantly Muslim country.

The “Rule of Thumb”

If there was a “one size fits all” solution to managing cultural differences, it would be to learn as much about others’ customs and cultural preferences as possible before transacting business with them. When meeting someone from another culture with no prior study, it is always advisable to keenly observe their customs, body language, and other cultural differences, and let what they do dictate your actions.

The more conservative you are in your approach, and the more you work to acknowledge cultural differences, the more effective you will be, whether as a representative, an executive, or both. Call (08) 9242 8122 to find out more.

Ron Cacioppe

Ron Cacioppe is the Managing Director of Integral Development and holds a BSc, an MBA and a PhD. He has taught in the Graduate School of Management at Macquarie University, Curtin University and the University of Western Australia.

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