Due Diligence Applies to Cultures

As local businesses explore the global economy and contemplate broadening their reach, one of the items that might not be at the top of the priority list (but should be) is researching culture and understanding the differences and potential conflicts between our customs and culture and those of another country.

I recently taught a Junior Achievement program to the sixth grade gifted student program at South Lake Elementary entitled, “Global Marketplace.”  In it, we talked about international trade and what that meant.  But in Session Three, we began to discuss barriers to international trade and talked about a country’s culture and how easy it could be to “blow a deal” if you don’t research the customs and culture of a country before attempting to engage in business there.  Some easy examples were the manner of dress and address, handshaking, eye contact and gifting.  We even touched on the concept of “bribery” and whether or not that would be deemed appropriate and acceptable in other cultures.

China Experience

I had the opportunity to witness the importance of culture on a recent trip to China.  As part of a delegation of Chamber of Commerce executives from the United States and Canada, we held business meetings with government officials from all of the municipalities we visited.  It was very interesting to observe how important procedure and hierarchy is in the Chinese business culture.

How do we, as Americans, deal with issues of culture in international business deals?  Do we expect the rest of the world to adopt our culture and customs and excuse our mistakes, or do we respect other cultures and study the differences before we act?

This year, the Titusville Area Chamber of Commerce is spearheading a trip to China for late October.  Although it is not entirely a business trip, it certainly has many business implications.  Our chamber partners across the Space Coast are joining in this effort, and Melissa Stains, CEO of the Cocoa Beach Regional Chamber, and I will be part of the group that travels to Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Suzhou.

While there, travelers will have the opportunity to meet Chinese businesspeople in similar industries and discuss opportunities.  More importantly, though, this delegation will see firsthand the culture of the country and better understand the nuances of doing business in China.

What You Don’t Know Can Hurt

Knowing whose hand to shake first and whether or not it’s acceptable to call someone by their first name is certainly important.  But it is equally important to investigate the way people in another country solve problems.  Consider your product or service – it may be the perfect solution to a problem we experience here in the United States, but how do you know it is transferable to another country?  Do the people in that country engage in the same activities that produce the opportunity for your product or service?  Do they approach that activity in the same manner?  If not, can your product or service be modified somehow to address the differences?

Really investigating the marketplace and observing the culture can be imperative to the success of your global expansion. Think about that the next time you encounter someone from a different culture.  Pay attention to the way they behave and how they approach a situation.  Increasing your awareness to the differences in others can bring us one step closer to success in this global economy, and even teach us more about ourselves in the process.

Maria Gaedcke
Marcia Gaedcke is the president of the Titusville Area Chamber of Commerce, www.Titusville.org.