Understanding cultural differences when doing business around the world is becoming more important in a global society. Even within large countries like the United States, there are differences from one region to another. When you go beyond that and look at one country vs. another, the differences become even more impactful on business.
When we concentrate on similarities in business the differences arenâ€™t that important.Â Problems arise when the differences appear to be all there are. When entrepreneurs focus on the perceived differences between each other in business, these differences can become stumbling blocks to developing a strong relationship, which is, after all, the ultimate goal of networking. A difference in communication and behavioral styles exacerbates perceived differences.
Understanding those differences becomes very important as we do business around the world. I have asked experts on networking in several Asian countries to share their advice with me on how to do business in the Asian market.Â Interestingly, their advice is not the same for every country.
One of Chinaâ€™s leading experts on networking, Jihong Hall, says that â€œface is everything to the Chinese.â€ When used in a business context, face is not something you wash or shave but is something that is granted or lost.Â In China the word face is an idiom for dignity, prestige, honor, respect and status. According to Hall, Westerners often make jokes either at their own expense or at other peopleâ€™s expense: They have a knack for laughing at themselves.Â She strongly recommends, however, that you do not do this with the Chinese until you know them very, very well.Â If you lose their face you will lose their business.
She has three additional recommendations for working with the Chinese:
- When negotiating, always keep plenty in reserve. A deal must be a compromise in which you have given enough ground so that their face is satisfied.
- Numbers are very important to the Chinese. For example, if your company was formed in 1944 it is best to not mention that date because 1944 means â€œdeath, deathâ€ in their culture. Even prices and fees that are charged are guided by the right numbers.
- How you look is VERY important. Dress well.Â Smart casual dress is fine but wear stylish clothes.
Vietnamese business networking expert, Ho Quang Minh, also recommends that you â€œlook formalâ€ when doing business in Asian countries. He says:
- Westerners should be aware that some Asian business people may talk less because they do not feel comfortable speaking English. Donâ€™t assume that they are not highly successful and even driven business professionals because they come across as quiet or reserved.
- Discuss business over a meal. Do not go straight to the point at the first meeting.
Thai and Malaysian business networking expert, Avryl Au, has a couple of additional recommendations:
- When doing business in Thailand, do not shake hands.Â Thais instead put their hands together (palm to palm) and place them just in front of their face, with closed mouth, then they bow slightly.
- In Malaysia, Au says that the handshake is the official way to greet someone, but after that you put your right hand on your heart. While Westerners generally have a firm handshake, in Malaysia, however, the handshake is generally softer. This is not a sign of weakness.Â It is simply the cultural norm.
Asato Ohno, one of Japanâ€™s leading experts on networking says, â€œone big difference between the Japanese business culture and Western business culture is an activity the Japanese call â€œnominication,â€ which means drinking communication.â€ According to Ohno, â€œin order to build any kind of meaningful business relationship with your associates, you must go out for dinner and drinks.â€
While this concept is not foreign in Western business culture, it is something that is much, much more important in Japan. Ohno says that, â€œpeople believe they can build a deeper relationship with others more quickly by drinking together. It is almost like having casual one-to-oneâ€™s regularly. Therefore, it is important for any business person to prepare and to plan for ‘nominication’ sessions in order to be successful.â€
So, with that last recommendation, I think Iâ€™ll set a reservation at a local restaurant, contact some business associates and start a little nominication of my own.
Called the “father of modern networking” by CNN, Dr. Ivan Misner is a New York Times bestselling author. Â He is the Founder and Chairman of BNI (www.BNI.com), the world’s largest business networking organization. Â His book, Networking Like a Pro, can be viewed at www.IvanMisner.com. Â Dr. Misner is also the Sr. Partner for the Referral Institute (www.ReferralInstitue.com), an international referral training company.
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