How cultural understanding and adaptation drive business success

The opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Having grown up on different continents, I learned from a young age the importance of being aware of cultural nuances and the ever-important aspect of assimilation. In the business world, this couldn’t be more profound.

Several years ago I was working in China when a US-based client was looking to partner with a Chinese company in Shanghai. One of my conditions for representing him was that he follow the protocols I had set up for him. The most important thing was to avoid business discussions in the first meeting with his potential partners unless they did so first. Chinese people feel the need to build connection, respect and a sense of understanding before delving into business.

He chose to ignore my advice and instead dove straight into the business details within minutes of sitting down with Chinese executives. Things didn’t go so well, because that was the beginning of the end for him and this particular client.

Related: Become a better leader with these 5 cultural awareness tips

Navigate between shades

Whether you work in a small office in Omaha, a corporate headquarters in New York, or a skyscraper in Singapore, today’s tech industry is global, which means that cultural knowledge and understanding, as well as adaptation, can help ensure broader success. If it hasn’t happened yet, sooner or later you and your company will come face to face with significant cultural differences. When that time comes, you will have to be ready.

Over the years, I’ve developed a number of trusted techniques for exploring cultural nuances to close deals, build partnerships, and foster better collaboration. I’m always happy to share them and encourage a broader understanding of the business.

Workshops and diversification

One of the best known and often criticized tactics is cultural sensitivity training. Yes, in some cases, especially in corporate settings, sensitivity training can be boring, soulless, and largely useless. But when thoroughly researched and delivered with a human touch, it can be compelling and highly effective.

Young founders of an Austin-based startup looking to expand globally, for example, could learn a lot from seminars on Indian business and etiquette. These lessons could prove invaluable in finalizing a deal that significantly expands the tech company’s footprint and prospects.

Who could lead these workshops? Well, if the startup followed my next recommendation, embracing diversity in hiring, they may already have a staff member with Indian heritage who could take the lead. Hiring diversity, in terms of gender, background, ethnicity and ability, is not only ethically right, but also great for company morale and understanding.

My next tactic goes a step further: instituting similar inclusivity in team building and leadership. It is nearly impossible to diversify every single team, due to internal talent limitations. But whenever possible, every team should embrace diversity, while executives and the board of directors should be equally open to the widest range of candidates. The result is a broader range of ideas and a greater likelihood of connection and understanding with other external teams and companies.

Related: Diversity Matters: Defining (and Developing) Your Cultural Quotient

Communicating is not just a matter of words

An often overlooked area of ​​cultural difference is communication. It’s no secret that people from different countries tend to use different languages. But many entrepreneurs think that if they have a reliable translator and know what their interlocutor is saying, they will have a solid foundation.

This is not always the case, due to variations in communication, manners and sensitivity. A German executive, for example, might appreciate and respond to a direct but fair criticism of his company’s offering, while a Japanese CEO might take offense at the same remark and walk away. Knowing how people tend to communicate and what they prefer to avoid can determine success or failure.

Don’t forget the cultural fruit at hand

Cultural holidays and traditions may be the low-hanging fruit of cultural differences, but they are still forgotten. It’s never a good idea, for example, to suggest a negotiation call on the day your potential partner marks his country’s independence. And did you know that some countries celebrate Christmas on January 7?

It only takes a minute of research to ensure your company vision doesn’t conflict with key dates and traditions. This also applies to internal companies: business leaders must respect the cultural differences of their staff. This could mean a break during Hindu holidays, for example, or special considerations for Muslim employees who wish to fast during Ramadan. This not only increases employee morale, but also helps encourage a work environment where everyone feels heard and understood, which tends to increase loyalty and reduce attrition.

In recent weeks, Silicon Valley firms have acquired two Israeli cybersecurity firms worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Israel’s IT sector is buzzing and growing rapidly, but there is no doubt that these major agreements have resulted in some cultural understanding and adaptation, whether related to the ongoing conflict, Judaism, or some other concern.

Related: Business Etiquette Basics from Around the World (infographic)

It should be obvious, but the benefit for these American companies isn’t just about the products they now control and the potential boost in profits. It’s also about planting a flag in a new country, gaining experience in a new region, and growing the company’s understanding of global cultural nuances, all of which are likely to lead to long-term success. I think it’s best summed up by what I was told once when I was in China: “You Americans measure success from quarter to quarter. In China we measure the same success but in dynasties.”

As my friend learned in Shanghai, Americans will never remake the world in their image, no matter how much we like to overestimate our influence. There is no substitute for learning, understanding and adapting to significant social and cultural differences. The fact is that the more informed and respectful negotiations are, the more likely they are to be successful.

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