The cultural do’s and don’ts of conducting business globally

Doug Bruhnke is an amazing guy – driven, tireless and infinitely patient. He and I worked together for several years at Phoenix-based Phelps Dodge, a copper-mining company that was acquired by Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold.

Doug left before I did to lead Growth Nation, which offers a variety of branding and marketing services. Doug has lived in Singapore and Japan, and he and his company are particularly strong in the area of global business. As an extension of his global interests, Doug several years ago began the Arizona International Growth Group, which has become one of Phoenix’s premier networking groups and a real force in helping Phoenix expand its global business presence.

Recently Doug invited Gloria Petersen, owner of Global Protocol Inc., to address AZIGG. Gloria is an expert in cultural sensitivities. She helps people avoid the goofs and gaffes that make for funny bits in movies but can break a business deal in real life.

Gloria’s overview of sound cultural sensitivity seems basic, but people often fail to follow the basics and in doing so, botch their cross-cultural opportunities. Putting the basics into practice demonstrates that you know what you’re doing, you’re thoughtful enough to care, and you can be trusted.

Here is some of the advice she offered:

  • Know the difference between a high-context (relationship building) and a low-context (bottom line) culture.
  • Know rank-based introduction protocol.
  • Know the hierarchy of a greeting, seating arrangement, and interpreter placement.
  • Know the proper pronunciation and arrangement of one’s name.
  • Know when and when not to use honorific titles.
  • Know when a direct gaze is appropriate and when it is considered an invasion of space or privacy.
  • Know handshake and gesture variances.
  • Know gender rules.
  • Know conversation topic do’s and taboos.
  • Know when to bring up business.
  • Know food and beverage rituals and restrictions.
  • Know how to engage a proper business card exchange.

Many of the same rules apply even when doing business within the United States. There truly are regional differences in some of these protocols, and you can really set yourself apart by showing an awareness and an appreciation of the differences.

If you’re looking to do business globally, or to learn more about how it’s done, get in touch with Doug and Gloria. They’re great resources, and they can help you open doors to whole new worlds.

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