It’s been said that when a multinational business merger fails, and if there is no other explanation, then people attribute the failure to “cultural issues”. And what does that mean? I think it means something like “people are weird”, which can easily elide into “people are uncooperative” and then it becomes “THOSE people are weird and uncooperative”.
Cultural issues become problematic when I find it hard to believe that someone else would actually believe, and behave as if, some value they hold is more important that the value that I hold.
And, at the same time, they are thinking: “how can she go on behaving as if that really were a value, more important than our values?”
There are two things going on here: one is understanding that others really do have other values, and the second is honoring their choice to behave according to their values. When we see our international partners as strangers, we tend to judge their behavior according to our standards. When we get to know them as real people, even friends, then we are more likely to allow them to be the judge of their own behavior.
So what practical steps are there to avoid a business failure for “cultural issues”? I recommend these:
- Read a book about “doing business” in your own culture. This will give you some insight into what things outsiders think are notably weird about your behavior and attitudes. You may decide not to change, but at least you will have some idea of why people react to you the way they do.
- Relax and socialize. OK, you are clear that the technology is more important than the relationship. But other people want to get to know you better before they trust you with their business. So take it easy a little bit and enjoy the new foods, sights, and people they want to introduce you to.
- Consider gamification. Everybody loves to play, and you can get to know others on a much deeper level when you play together. Talk about games you played as a child (they may have the same ones!), ask about sports and leisure activities, and consider the answers you receive for insights into cultural beliefs about competition, cooperation, and social stratification (winners and losers).
Cultural issues don’t have to sink your ventures. But they do have to be taken into account and planned for, understood, even used. So be sure to take them on. And have fun doing it!
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