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The importance of cultural awareness in the globalization context

Making sure you don't put your foot in it!

Elena Arau | 17th February 2017

Being aware of cultural differences could land you that big deal or, the lack of it can play as the deal-breaker.

As we are fast-forwarding into a multicultural global community, surely many of us have often been in a position where you second-guessed a joke at a dinner party, or regretted a comment at a business meeting. Being aware of cultural differences could land you that big deal or, the lack of it can play as the deal-breaker.

In the context of the truly global dimension of our century, that is becoming more and more prominent, it is crucial to develop intercultural competences. A joke, a gesture or a word that is perfectly acceptable in your culture might be considered very offensive for others.

For example, high-context cultures (Mediterranean, Central European, Latin American, African, Arab, Asian, etc.) leave much of the message unspecified – to be understood through context, nonverbal cues, and between-the-lines interpretation of what is actually said. By contrast, low-context cultures (most of the Germanic and English-speaking countries) expect messages to be explicit and specific. This could lead to a potential conflict when the low-context cultures expect accuracy and precision in written or spoken words and the lack of it might be perceived as a business trap.

We all heard at least once in our lifetime the American expression “time is money”. Imagine how disastrous it would be when a culture that views an insistence on timeliness as childish impatience - and the “academic quarter” is perfectly acceptable - is 10 minutes late for a negotiation with American representatives.

In international business dealings, reason and emotion both play a big role. Emotional reactions were found to be least acceptable in Japan, Indonesia, the U.K., Norway and the Netherlands – and most accepted in Italy, France, the U.S. and Singapore. The latter can storm out of a meeting if emotionally-neutral cultures do not show enough empathy or excitement.

Make the effort before a meeting and do some research on your counterpart’s cultural background. The internet is a great source for relevant information. Asking questions about their culture can also be a good starting-point, but most importantly, you can never go wrong with an honest, open approach.

In a world where “time is money” and “money is power” do we really take the time to be empathetic towards each other? Do we still have the time or will for a genuine kind gesture? Is it still in our values to put people before business? Before any cultural barriers there is common sense.

“If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric. One in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.” Margaret Mead - American cultural anthropologist