Intercultural Competence in the Business Context
6 Facts To Be Taken Into Consideration
Your business partners don´t answer you e-mails? Business initiation is dragging on and you are wondering how to deal with it? You are asking a yes/no question, but there is no clear reply?
How to deal with conflict in international business relations?
Success in international business is based on social competence, so:
- be aware of your own cultural imprint
- show your interest in habits that are different, in an unbiased way!
Interculturality in Daily Business
Problems in daily business can be connected to intercultural aspects. Sometimes the reasons lie somewhere else. Often it is one factor among many others. It helps, to stay tuned to this aspect.
You may want to ask yourself about:
- Differences in the value system: are relationships more important than material assets? This might lead to a longer period in business initiation, e.g. in the arabic sphere. Once trust has been established, things will move rather smoothly.
- Social habits: how does your counterpart perceive well regulated courses of action, “one thing after the other” or “everything at the same time”? What is perceived as “timely” in the other cultural sphere? How do they structure knowledge and how is it being shared?
- Body language: is eye contact sought for or permitted? And with whom? What role does clothing play when it comes to the expression of respect? And could it be a sign of respect, to contemplate on your counterpart´s visiting card for a little while? Those are aspects that might appear superficial in our eyes, but have an impact on the business relation.
- Social roles: assumptions regarding female versus male business partners. The importance/meaning of old age: is unconditional respect towards elders a rule?
- Norms and rules: what is polite? In some cultures, especially in many Asian countries it is a “no-go” to contradict an elder person. Hierarchies have more meaning and importance.
- Conflict behaviour: in the Southern and Asian hemisphere it is widely considered as impolite to refer to conflict in a direct manner. Moreoften this is being done indirectly, e.g. through silence.
The Western Hemisphere – and the Large Part of the World
All these differences can lead to dramatic consequences. A sad and well known case is the one of a plane crash of a Corean aircraft: the much younger co-pilot was too “subtle” in expressing his warnings vis a vis his American superior. The latter simply did not understand the urgency – with fatal results.
The above list is far from complete. Sensitize yourself consciously and develop your intercultural competence! Even if you might have to check your sources in a specific case – with the right basic attitude bottlenecks in communication can be resolved.
You will be able to understand the other side and are able to take measures to clarify the matter.
Cultural singularites are very specific worldwide. But there are general tendencies that can be made out. Here the so called “Western Hemisphere” – there the so called “Southern Hemisphere”.
Frequently we assume that Western behaviour is the “norm”: e.g. very direct communication and a focus on the individual person. However, in this very strong form this is reduced to big parts of Central Europe and North America.
However, even within Europe we see big differences: in the Netherlands we have a rather “feminine” culture, ie. co-operation has more importance than competition.
It is human to think of oneself as the center of the universe. However, a very large part of the world – ie most countries outside the Central European and North-American sphere have completely different views on human interaction. They think in a collectivist way: this means that focus is on the group rather than on the individual. Bonus point programmes, featuring the individual might not be well accepted in such a context!
Being aware of such aspects is key to intercultural competence. All in all it revolves around the following four areas:
- Collectivism – focus on the group rather than on the individual
- Power Distance: respect for elders, for hierarchies
- Uncertainty avoidance: how much regulation does everyday life require?
- Masculinity vs Feminity: what is predominant: competitive/aggressive behaviour or a sense of co-operation and team work?
It is the well known scientist Gert Hofstede who developed these 4 areas of interculturality. Make use of all the helpful information of this website.https://www.hofstede-insights.com/country-comparison-tool
Only a mouseclick away you will find comparisons between different countries and more information on two other intercultural categories.
Intercultural Differences – Not Only Between Countries
The term “culture” normally refers to countries or ethnicities.
However, it can also be applied to smaller social entities. For example men and women could have their own “culture”, ie a shared set of meanings.
This also applies to organisational entities in businesses or organisations. One department might be used to a more informal way of interaction than the other. The reasons can be manyfold.
The important thing is, to keep one´s eyes open for the cultural aspects of any specific relationsship, ie the inter-cultural aspects of it.
Added Value in International Teams
In international teams, management and employees often have different nationalities. The effects of interculturality are frequently underestimated and can lead to problems in productivity.
However, given the right attention, diversity has great potential for more productivity. It pays off to take into account the synergistic effects of interculturality!