12 Quick Cross-Cultural Tips For Today’s Global Executive

Are you a competent executive, but are clueless when it comes to the proper cultural practices, customs and protocol in other countries? Knowing the appropriate cultural cues and practices is invaluable to creating an ongoing, profitable relationship when doing business internationally.

Here are 12 quick tips to raise your awareness and enhance your success:-

1) In East Asian board rooms, involving new business acquaintances, many executives will arrange the business cards of the participants in the way that they are seated around the table, so that they can be sure to learn their correct names, titles and place them properly within the corporate hierarchy.

2) If you are doing business in East Asia, be prepared by bringing plenty of business cards. You will use many more than you would at home in North America during a similar conference or meeting. Understand the protocol of giving, receiving, handling and storing of business cards. Never write on a business card. Store them in a classy case above your waist. Using a back pocket or wallet for this purpose will not do, Gentlemen.

3) For the men – it is not uncommon in the Middle East for your local male colleague or client to clasp your hand while walking. This means that they like and trust you. Be forewarned, if you think that your hand may suddenly become clammy, as a result.

4) In many countries, you may meet locals for just a few minutes, who might ask you impertinent questions that we would normally consider highly personal. Examples of this would be: Are you married? How many children do you have? Why don’t you have any children? Why aren’t you married? What religion are you? What do you think of my (Hindu, Buddhist, Moslem) religion? How old are you? How much money do you make? Why isn’t your husband travelling with you? If you are American or British, know that you may be asked political questions about your country’s current foreign policy.

5) It is not only important to know how and when to give and receive gifts in business, but how to wrap and present them. In many cultures, how the gift is wrapped and presented, is as important as the gift itself. In East Asia as well as other parts of Asia, gifts are not opened in front of the giver, to save face. You should also refrain from opening their gift to you, in front of them.

6) Table manners and what is acceptable varies considerably, depending on the region. For example, belching while eating is acceptable in parts of the Middle East, but not in the UK. In England and France it is a common practice to utilize a knife and fork while eating a sandwich or a hamburger. In China, you use chopsticks to serve your portion from the common platter.

7) Spitting in public is accepted in Japan, but blowing your nosepublicly is not. A Japanese finds it revolting when they see a Westerner blow their nose and place the used tissue or handkerchief in pockets or handbag.

8) In South Africa, when they say, “I will see you just now,” it means they will see you later.

9) In the UK, a retirement scheme means pension plan in America. To table a discussion in America means to postpone it. In the UK, it means to put the topic out for discussion at present.

10) When Germans whistle at a soccer match, they are jeering.

11) Beckoning someone with a curling index finger in Southeast Asia and Australia is rude.

12) Ladies, dressing in conservative clothes, with minimalist jewelry and wearing neutral colors is recommended in East Asia and the Middle East. What is considered acceptable, professional business attire in the US, is not de rigueur in the UAE, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where knees, shoulders and arms are always covered, and necklines of blouses at least touch the collarbone. The dark conservative skirt suites acceptable in some countries, would not be a fit in India, where colorful, flowing clothes are the norm.

To do business overseas without any or little cross-cultural training is to court disaster. Some professional sources cite a 30-60% failure rate where there is no advance cultural preparedness. Do your homework to ensure lasting, professional and profitable international relationships.