A commodity crash. ISIS threats. Last year was not a smooth one for global markets. Despite all these bumps in the road, world business expanded 3.1 percent. This year, it will grow even more—up to 3.6 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook. There’s no doubt that global business is the new norm. We live in a world where nearly all high-growth companies work across multiple time zones and in diverse cultural contexts.
But the truth is that even experienced business leaders can sometimes get caught up in the small contextual differences of working across different regions and cultures. The solution? Paying attention to little details that can ensure potential business deals— and new professional relationships—go smoothly.
Here are 5 easy ways to help make this year’s global ventures your most successful yet.
Be aware. When speaking about the particular way something’s done in business, add “…in this country or in country X” at the end of your sentence. This will help remind you and others that it may not work the same way in other countries, and could, in fact, function quite differently. This will also let your colleagues from other countries know you’re aware that their experiences, assumptions and values might differ from your own.
Set your clocks. Remember to set the right time zones in your new 2016 calendar. Also consider alternating meetings times to make it convenient for all attendees. Having a meeting at three in the morning might not be ideal for you, but neither is making your colleagues in different parts of the world stay late at the office. (Sometimes it’s the 1 or 2 hour time zone differences that cause the most confusion!)
Fact-find. If you’re working in a new, specific, region of the world, get online and memorize five facts about that country or culture. When interacting with colleagues or business partners, use those facts as ice-breakers. In new sales or vendor meetings, you’ll be seen as credible. And by showing an effort to learn about their culture, you’ll gain respect and show genuine interest in your new associates.
Be an anthropologist. Make a resolution when traveling to global locations that you’ll discover new places, people and things. Don’t just rely on tourism books; ask locals to show you around and view sight-seeing as an opportunity to support your business dealings. Just like a real anthropologist would, pay attention to the local communication style and values, the holidays people celebrate and why. You’ll develop deeper relationships with your business contacts and acquire a more nuanced understanding of their backgrounds.
Read the news. Seek out global news sources, read books set in other countries, and watch international films. And don’t just read about the disasters. Find out what is going on the world of business, politics and the social arena. Look for neutral, positive stories.
These tips may sound simple, but I promise they will go a long way toward helping you foster positive and lasting professional relationships in global environments. Finally, remember that developing global mindset isn’t only a business benefit; the growth and enrichment that comes with cross-cultural experiences can be as personally rewarding as it is professionally.