Everyone knows that, even when we just visit or go on holidays to a foreign country, we easily find ourselves putting our foot in other people’s mouth. Why is this so dangerous in a business context? And why does it happen at all although by now, everybody should be well-informed by the comprehensive access to information through the media?
Behavior patterns are strongly influenced by tradition, values, standards and religion. A product, a service or any simple negotiation may lead to situations where misunderstandings arise by applying incorrect interpretation and unsuitable emotional patterns. Specific products may not be bought because of their name or their looks. It may well be that PipiTM, the Croatian brand of yellow lemonade in transparent bottles, may evoke peculiar associations in Germany. Misunderstandings and irritations in negotiation or project contexts may even lead to lasting negative consequences or even cause the disruption of business relationships.
Cultural differences may also imply differences in taste and behavior:
- Visual: White is the color of mourning in India, but of joy and festivity in Europe.
- Olfactory: Perfume components such as rose water in Arabian/ Asian countries, lavender scent in the Mediterranean.
- Taste: Ulisimali (raw, fermented seal meat) in Iceland, Pinyin pidàn, the “thousand-year-old egg” (fermented egg) or boiled goose feet in Asia.
- Phonetic: The figure 4 in Asia phonetically sounds like “death” (homophone with shi) while the figure 8 (ba) phonetically resembles fa, meaning “move ahead”.
- Communication: Long pauses during conversation among Fins and Japanese, overlapping conversations in Italy and other countries in Southern Europe and Latin America.
The success of international relationships and global trade largely depends on the perfect interplay between partners. Considering today’s business relationships, it becomes clear that partners of most diversified cultural roots will have to interact with each other ever more often and more intensely. Globalization and the resulting increasing linkup, above all, enabled by new and faster communication tracks, do not necessarily translate into a better understanding for the negotiation partner. Quite the opposite is the case. Misunderstandings increase because business people not only are exposed to higher contact frequencies but also progressively to a higher stress level.
Excerpt from Internationales Management by Arnd Albrecht, published by Wissenschafts-Verlag, Berlin 2016 (German only).
Figure © Arnd Albrecht