10 Cultural Norms that Can’t be Ignored when Doing Business Overseas

Cultural Norms

10 Cultural Norms that Can’t be Ignored when Doing Business Overseas

In today’s increasingly globalised world, businesses that fail to exploit overseas opportunities may fall behind competitors. But doing business in new countries can be intimidating. To help you prepare for a business trip abroad, this article from Maps Online explores 10 cultural norms that must be respected when trying to break into a new market.

Unique communication styles | Kenya

Being on the same wavelength is crucial to business success, and this comes from communicating with your audience in a way that is understood and appreciated. While some countries favour direct, ‘no-nonsense’ discussions, business communications in Kenya are defined by diplomacy. People are expected to back up their claims, and use metaphors and stories, so that controversial points are delivered sensitively.

Cultural Norms of Business meetings and what they stand for | Australia

Meetings come in many guises. Some are fast-paced and energetic; others are free-flowing and relaxed. You must quickly adjust in order to move discussions in the right direction. In Australia, meetings will often begin late because small talk between delegates is expected. Planning will be loose and designed to provoke discussion and inclusive decision-making; don’t expect the boss to orate.

The dynamics of team work | Hong Kong

Cultural nuances often dictate how teams operate; break these norms and the team can fall apart. In Hong Kong, loyalty is to the family, which can cause issues if family members are split between competing teams. Teams in Hong Kong are also sensitive to disagreements or disrespect, so when leading a team it’s important to prioritise courtesy and respect to facilitate efficiency.

Cultural Norms of Gift-giving as a part of business | China

Gift-giving is important in China, but bribery is illegal, so your intentions must be clear. Avoid anything that’s too expensive, and if at all unsure, wait until any deals have concluded. Gifts should be wrapped, and given – with both hands – to the most senior representative. They may be refused up to three times.

Varied business structures | Egypt

Western business structures are not universal. Businesses in Egypt are often governed by Sharia law, which requires mandatory daily prayer sessions. Decision-making is very hierarchical, with employees expected to follow directions verbatim. You must recognize and respect structures, even if you perceive them as unorthodox, to avoid causing offence.

Cultural holidays and shifting dates | Argentina

Public holidays reflect a country’s cultural and political history. You need to be aware of these dates to avoid wasting your time or causing offence. In Argentina, many public holidays are moveable and shift depending on how the days fall. There are several rules; for example, if a non-movable holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, an extra holiday is added on the following Friday or previous Monday. Check with the country’s embassy before you travel.

Local rules surrounding business dress | Norway

It’s important to make a good first impression, but don’t forget the judging criteria varies between countries. In Norway, first impressions are generally made on attitude, so dressing well is less important. In fact, it can seem imposing to dress very smartly; most business people will dress casually, reflecting the non-hierarchical nature of Norwegian society.

Ingrained norms surrounding interaction | India

Ingrained norms can provoke powerful emotions – breaking them may cause offence and disrupt negotiations. In India, the left hand is used to clean yourself after using the toilet, and is seen as unclean. People are expected to pass items, receive items and touch others only with their right hand. Indian culture also permits staring – it is not seen as taboo.

The perception of women in the workplace | Saudi Arabia

Gender equality is a principle we celebrate but it is unfortunately not universal. In Saudi Arabia, women have little role in public life and the business world by extension, and it is difficult for a foreign woman to exploit opportunities without opposition. If you are a businesswoman going to Saudi Arabia, remember to respect the very conservative rules surrounding appropriate clothing.

Customs around entertaining and relaxation | Russia

Business deals invariably attract a certain degree of out-of-hours entertaining. In Russia, being asked to a lunch or dinner does not give away much in itself; you won’t know if the invitation means the deal is going well or not. But you should prepare for a lengthy session, with plenty of food and hard alcohol. Many toasts are common, and you should always express appreciation for the food and hospitality as this is seen as a sign of respect.

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