Each culture has its own set of business customs and rules to live by. By growing up in one culture, it can be difficult to properly acknowledge and understand another. Most cultural errors made by businessmen and women start with simple things like business dress, appropriate conversation, or how to address someone. Since business etiquette varies between cultures all over the world, it is very important to be humble and open to learning. Here are some of the most common errors made by businessmen and women today.

1.    Unfamiliarity with timing
If you are doing business in another country, do some research prior to the trip. Find out the pace of that business. A relationship may need to be formed before moving futher. Are plans formed and implemented according to pre-established schedules? Are meetings, appointments, and presentations laid back, or do people tend to have a “let’s get it done,” approach? Is it better to be early, on-time, or “fashionably late”?

2.    Not knowing the proper way to address a colleague at work and in public
It’s great to meet you Sue…Miss Smith…Dr. Smith…?? How you present yourself and greet someone else are the first things someone will recognize about you. As you say hello and introduce yourself, are you shaking hands, exchanging kisses on the cheek, or bowing? How far apart should you be standing? Be aware of what is custom. Watch some of your colleagues if you need to. Because kissing the cheeks of the CEO of a company in China is not the way to close a deal. Instead, bowing, or curtseying would be a proper greeting.

3.    Inappropriate dress

Research how to dress for the culture you are entering. There are particular ways of dress for men and women. Is it a suit and tie, skirt and blouse, or business casual? You are a visitor, so the requirements may not be strictly enforced, it’s better to be safe than sorry. How you dress either respects or disrespects people. I’m sure your last intent is to be disrespectful when entering another country.

4.    Little knowledge of the local language
Lack of familiarity with a country’s culture can weaken a company’s position in a market.  An example of this is Nike’s television ad for its shoes. The saying was, “Just do it.” Although this may make sense to some, a Samburu African tribesman interpreted it as “I don’t want these, give me big shoes.”  This obviously would affect the success of the product. Therefore, keep in mind that a phrase in one language doesn’t always translate the original meaning.

5.    Cultural bias

People tend to view another culture through lenses of what they are used to. As a result, your culture becomes the norm and everything else is “strange.” Try to be sensitive to the foreign culture, and appreciate the differences in traits and patterns. Also, remember that good intensions and morals are found in all cultures. Be adaptive, flexible, and tolerant with new experiences and ideas. Make sure you avoid overgeneralizations and stereotypes that cause you to assume one person will behave a certain way.

You may think you understand a country’s cultural norms, but you are probably missing something important. Find out some of the things you need to learn, or skills, like a language, that you would like to improve. Then you will be well on your way to being a culture master!

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