Nov 29 2006

Global Handshake

Published by at November 29, 2006 1:36 pm under Cross-cultural Training,Global Culture

Sooner or later, it happens to everyone running a business. You notice that more and more of your meetings are with people with unpronounceable last names or in cities far removed from North America or Western Europe. You find yourself eating sushi with a big customer in Osaka or jetting off to meet with a Nanjing-based cog in your global supply chain. Your passport fills up with stamps, your airline miles increase, and your spouse forgets how you take your coffee. Welcome to the age of global business.

When it comes to doing business globally, most people immediately assume that language will be the first issue they face. It will not. Assume that the person on the other side of the table can speak English well. If not, he will have an interpreter who probably speaks the language better than you do.

But do be prepared to deal with some very different ideas about how things should work. Cultural differences will be your most enduring challenge in doing business internationally.

Language can be learned to the level of fluency, but few people can leave their culture behind. Sociologists in the 1930s hypothesized the notion of “habitus,” a set of rules for viewing and interacting with the world around us that we learn as we grow up within a society. These schemas drive our language, beliefs, dispositions, habits, styles, and even ideas. Taken as a whole and shared by everyone in a social or national group, they become general-purpose cultural models. They help individuals learn and live their culture.

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