Junior Accounting Manager at RSM Poland
Finding a "common language" in business relationships at the crossroads of two cultures is an extremely difficult task. Persons from different countries, cultures, environments, do not have common experience and despite the fact that sometimes there is only the Oder River or the proverbial boundary strip separating us, it happens very rarely that the world view, traditions and belief systems are intertwined.
Meanwhile, the ability to notice cultural differences very frequently determines the success of a business in the international environment. Ignorance of the business partner’s cultural differences may sometimes cause serious problems, and with the daily exchange of hundreds of e-mails and hurriedly received phone calls - confusion, surprise and even bitterness resulting from misunderstood intentions.
The awareness of cultural differences will certainly help us to move around in the international business environment. Bearing them in mind, we appropriately choose the style of communication, which, depending on who we are talking with, will be more open or more closed. Similarly, we try to be flexible in the aspect of a different understanding of punctuality, the method of work organisation, planning and privacy, because the overriding principle in building business relationships is the principle of adapting to the customer. If there is a meeting, irrespective of whether it takes place in the country of our customer or in an environment that is completely foreign for the customer, the greatest expression of respect is adaptation to the rules that the customer observes and the principles that the customer follows. Therefore, it is worth spending some time to explore the culture of our partner, to be able to create at the beginning a strong and sincere business bond. For instance, for a German it is important to follow the rules, to understand regulations, to be devoted to obligations, to plan ahead, to keep one's word and to be loyal. Having cooperated for years with our Western neighbours, we know that we are also judged by them according to the same categories.
A common mistake during cooperation with representatives of other nationalities is thinking in terms of stereotypes. In a sense, a stereotype releases us from the intellectual effort of becoming acquainted with a foreign culture. It is convenient for us, but it lures us in the trap of putting labels.
It is also a mistake to assume similarities in intercultural contacts. While perceiving other people, we are usually searching for shades of our own personalities in them. For instance, in Germans we accept their sound management, excellent work organisation and wealth, because we would like to be like that ourselves.
However, each of us is different - unique, and one of a kind. When we look at the person across the table with openness and willingness, and start to listen carefully what that person has to say, we can draw conclusions that can be very useful for us and obtain valuable information. And when we supplement this with our knowledge of a particular culture, our own flexibility and openness to what is alien, we can open the door to success in business on our own.