Business Culture

Cultural factors affect how business is conducted around the world, and can help or hinder your global sales efforts. A little homework before visiting a target market can help you avoid potential problems.

Cultural Encounter Types

An excellent brief article on business culture is offered on the website, which contends that there are three critical business-cultural settings: meals, introductions, and conversations:

  1. Meals: For example, a Japanese executive may make slurping sounds while eating, or his Chinese counterpart may leave food on their plate after a meal, but these are not bad manners. Slurping food in Japan shows that the food is being enjoyed. Consuming all the food on their plate in China suggests that you are still hungry and want more.
  2. Business introductions: For example, in Japan, people take their business cards very seriously. Presenting your card is considered a formal introduction, so business cards are presented and received with two hands, while simultaneously bowing heads.
  3. Conversations: For example, in America if a person stops talking during a meeting someone else will normally immediately continue the dialog. But, in some East Asian cultures it may take several seconds for someone to speak. This seems odd to Americans, but might mean that the Asian participants were not properly briefed beforehand and feel uncomfortable speaking up.

Cross-Cultural Guidance

Country Insights,” from the Canadian Government, is one of the best free references we have found. It offers more than 60 excellent country-cultural reports, which typically contain the following sections:

  • Conversations
  • Communication Styles
  • Display of Emotion
  • Dress, Punctuality & Formality
  • Preferred Managerial Qualities
  • Hierarchy and Decision-making
  • Religion, Class, Ethnicity, & Gender
  • Relationship-building
  • Privileges and Favoritism
  • Conflicts in the Workplace
  • Motivating Local Colleagues
  • Recommended Books, Films & Foods
  • In-country Activities
  • National Heroes
  • Stereotypes

Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands” is an excellent best-selling book on business culture in more than 60 countries. The electronic version is available for ten dollars.

Several more cultural references are listed at: