Barbara and I have had the privilege of traveling to more than 30 countries on six continents for business and humanitarian trips. Speaking for myself, I have made many mistakes attempting to build relationships in other places, ranging from the Rift Valley of Kenya to the Highlands in Papua New Guinea to the fast pace of Pudong, Shanghai. Hopefully I’ve learned from my faux pas, but they were usually painful experiences, nonetheless.
This past year, I had the pleasure of hearing Erin Meyer, professor at INSEAD, speak and then read from her book, The Culture Map — Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business. Erin could have saved me a lot of wasted time, energy, and blunders. She provides a field-tested model for decoding how cultural differences impact international business, and she combines a smart analytical framework with practical, actionable advice for succeeding in a global world.
If you have team members from different countries (Barbara and I worked with a team in Brazil that included people from more than 10 different countries including the Netherlands, Korea, Malaysia and, of course, Brazil), offices/plants located in other countries, or if you’re pursuing business cross-culturally for the first time, I would highly recommend Erin’s book. In addition, if you go to the Tools section of her website, erinmeyer.com, she provides a Self Assessment Cultural Profile and a tool you can use to compare how two (or more) cultures build trust, give negative feedback, and make decisions.
If your company has cross-cultural dealings, how are you doing with your associates, customers, and vendors from other cultures? My guess is Erin has a few practical tips that you’ll find valuable.
Footnote: I could share hundreds of stories, but this one comes to mind. One of my Japanese partners asked me to attend a seminar where he was the presenter. He wanted to introduce me to several Japanese business executives, and was excited that I would be sitting through his presentation (even though was all in Japanese). Although I knew no Japanese words, my partner had a clock built into his presentation and I could tell, as time went on, that he was significantly over the allotted time — probably by 25 percent. After the presentation, he asked for feedback, so I courageously offered my observation of his running over the scheduled time (a fatal mistake in U.S. business). He thanked me for my feedback and then went on to say, “In the Japanese culture, the participants’ reaction to the speaker who exceeds the allotted time is to be happy that they received more than they paid for.” All I could say was, “Really?”