My friend’s Berlin office struck me as odd when I walked into it for the first time. The top consultant for foreign investment in the Middle East didn’t have the usual round conference table. Instead, he had two long sofas facing each other.
At first, it seemed awkward. I wondered where my friend and his prospective customers made deals? Did he have another room somewhere that I couldn’t see?
Then I realized this setup was one of his secrets to success.
Negotiations with those in the Middle East don’t happen around conference tables or on the links. They happen sitting directly across from one another, drinking tea, and talking business. My friend had arranged his office to accommodate the culture of those with whom he was making deals.
Simple practices like this can be the dividing line between success and failure when you are conducting business abroad. Successful global business executives know to do their homework before entering into negotiations.
Here are five actions you can take right now to help with your global business ventures:
1. Adapt your cultural practices
Like my friend in Berlin, adapt your business practices to fit those from different backgrounds or cultures. Whether it be making decisions over late night drinks or during afternoon tea, adapting to cultural norms is critical for ensuring deals are made.
Along with this, it’s essential to approach negotiations with an open mind. Respect and be empathetic to those from different backgrounds than yours.
2. Make friends abroad
Develop relationships with those who live in countries in which you want to do business. Take trips and meet with government officials and community members.
When visiting, behave like an anthropologist. Be curious and ask questions. Acting like an anthropologist will help you establish credibility.
For example, if you’re doing business in Central Europe, you need to come to the table having done your homework whereas, in Israel, the details are expected to shake out after you and your potential business partners have initially discussed the idea.
3. Leverage relationships at home
There’s a good chance that people in your own network have done business in countries or cultures you want to target. Seek these people out and use them as cultural ambassadors to be successful in that global environment.
Invite them to impart their wisdom and contacts. Don’t be afraid to “ask dumb questions.” Learn from their mistakes and experience.
4. Keep up with the times
Successful global executives are avid consumers of global news. They pay attention to things such as conflicts, elections, and natural disasters.
This habit can help make sure you don’t try to schedule a meeting during a critical holiday or run into travel restrictions due to political unrest.
5. Know how money talks
We all know the phrase “money talks” but, it can speak in different languages. To be successful globally, you need to understand how money is handled, transacted, and the expectation for how it will be used to secure a negotiation.
What do the people with whom you are doing business consider a bribe? What does their culture and society view as an appropriate gift? Is money wired? What’s the state of the currency? You should be able to answer all these questions before trying to make a deal in another country.
Successful global executives learn everything they can about the country in which they want to do business. Knowing whether to kiss, shake hands, bow or offer tea, coffee, or scotch can go a long way in making successful and profitable global business deals.
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A version of this post was first published on Inc.