How to successfully build cultural awareness
As a Canadian company, it is important to recognize the diversity of cultures within our country and abroad, and to develop a deeper understanding of different cultural norms and practices. In this blog we discuss how to build and nurture greater cultural awareness so you and your company have greater success in intercultural business.
Entering any new market has its challenges. When that market is in another country with a very different culture, it can be harder still. What may be common practice in North America could be sensitive or off-putting to buyers abroad. So how do you make sure you start out — and stay — on the right foot when doing business outside of Canada?
The importance of understanding culture
So, what is culture? On the surface culture can be perceived as the way people do things, such as their behaviours and language. However, it can also go deeper into the way people think, for example how people define what is morally right and wrong or values based on the way people feel and what they consider important in their lives.
Culture impacts every aspect of how people live and interact, including how business is conducted around the world. To become ready to do business in another market it is necessary to first understand the concept of culture and how it affects people’s daily lives.
Without an understanding of how culture affects people’s behaviour, cultural mistakes and misinterpretations are inevitable which can potentially negatively affect professional interactions and even business deals.
Developing cultural awareness
In today’s increasingly globalized business world, understanding different cultures and how to interact with them is essential for success. This is why it is important for businesses to prioritize intercultural business and cultural awareness.
The first step in developing cultural awareness is to recognize the importance of cultural differences. It is important to understand the values, beliefs, and customs of different cultures, and to recognize that these differences can impact business practices and communication. Being culturally aware allows you to communicate with a person of another culture in a way that builds trust by adapting your professional and personal skills to fit local conditions. This can help you identify how to best market and advertise products and services to different audiences.
In addition, it is important to be open to learning about different cultural practices, customs, and social norms. This can involve researching different cultural practices, attending cultural events or festivals, or even travelling to different countries. By demonstrating an interest in different cultures, you can show clients and partners that you are committed to building strong, long-term relationships.
Examples of social norms:
- Gender roles
- Clothing and appearance
- Greetings and goodbyes
- Nonverbal communication
- Use of technology
- Freedom of speech and other liberties
It is also important to recognize the significance of language in intercultural business. Being able to communicate effectively in different languages can help to build stronger relationships with clients and partners from different cultural backgrounds. This can also help to reduce the risk of misunderstandings or miscommunications that can lead to lost opportunities or damage to business relationships.
Creating a culturally aware team
One way to improve your company’s cultural awareness is to create a diverse team. Having a diverse team, with people from different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences, can help your business better understand different customer needs and wants. It can also help to create a more inclusive work environment, which can lead to improved employee engagement and satisfaction, leading to better performance.
Another way to boost your company’s cultural awareness is to provide intercultural training for your employees. This can help to develop a greater understanding of different cultures and provide strategies for effective communication and collaboration with people from different cultural backgrounds. Intercultural training can also help to reduce the risk of misunderstandings or cultural clashes, which can lead to lost opportunities or even damage to business relationships.
Key business protocols to be aware of when doing business in another culture:
- Language usage
- Exchange of business cards
- Appropriate socializing
- Gift giving
- Meeting protocols
3 ways to boost your company’s cultural awareness
There are three main ways to give your company’s cultural awareness a boost. Depending on where you’re at in your sales cycle and the kinds of relationships you’re building, one or another may be more relevant. In some cases, you may want to think about all three.
1. Do your research
Most exporters research new markets as a matter of due diligence. That often tends to focus on the commercial and policy environment. But it’s a good idea to see what you can learn about the culture you’ll be dealing with as well.
Key questions to ask before going to another culture:
- What are the social norms and business protocols?
- What are the definite dos and don’ts?
- What are the key differences and key similarities between this culture and ours?
- What stereotypes does this culture have about our culture?
- What stereotypes do we have about their culture?
- What events are currently impacting the culture?
There are many resources with useful information on the business and broader societal cultures of other countries. Key resources include:
Embassy websites: Many countries’ Canadian embassies have information on their websites about their nations’ relationship with Canada, their culture, business etiquette, and more. While these won’t give you a comprehensive perspective, they will get you heading in the right direction.
Global Affairs Canada’s Centre for Intercultural Learning: The Centre offers courses and resources to help you gain a better understanding of working and communicating with other cultures, as well as a set of country insights with information about interacting with citizens of various countries.
CCC: CCC directors and staff have relationships with foreign government buyers, Canadian embassy staff, trade commissioners, and others. These directors can offer their own observations and perspectives on the target country’s cultural norms. Contact us today.
2. Find a local representative
Beyond basic research, there may be times when you want to have a local agent in a particular country market to help you build your presence and navigate the subtler aspects of doing business. Ideally, this should be someone who understands the language, the culture, how government works, how business deals are done, and how to best promote your product to buyers in their country.
While the Trade Commissioner Service and Global Affairs Canada may be able to put you in touch with potential agents, they’re not able to endorse any specific representative, so finding the right person will require some screening and due diligence on your part to ensure their compliance with ethics, bribery and corruption practices.
Meet with a potential agent in person. Confirm that they’re reliable, knowledgeable and a good fit for your own company culture. BDC has a great list of questions to ask when choosing a foreign agent.
3. Hire a good interpreter
Communication is critical to business deals. If you don’t speak the same language as your buyer, you’ll need someone to interpret for you. Although your buyer will probably have their own interpreter, we highly recommend hiring your own as well to avoid any conflict of interest.
An interpreter can be a trusted ally. In addition to faithfully rendering your communications with your buyer, your interpreter can also keep an ear out for other conversations in the room that could have an impact on your negotiations. Contact the Canadian embassy in your target country for help finding a local interpreter.
There are also many expatriate Canadians abroad who understand both Canadian culture and the culture of the country where you’re doing business, which can be an enormous help in building bridges. Be sure to hire someone who is professionally qualified as an interpreter, as the role involves specialized skills and expertise and a lot can ride on the precision and quality of their work.
Looking to expand into foreign markets? We can help.
Intercultural business is an essential aspect of doing business in today’s global economy. As a Canadian company, it is important to recognize the diversity of cultures within our country and abroad, and to develop a deeper understanding of different cultural norms and practices.
But remember, despite all the differences that may exist between your company and buyers in another country, ultimately it’s important to remember is that you’re still working with people. Making personal connections, earning trust and respect — all of those count hugely no matter where you’re doing a deal.
This post was last updated on April 12, 2023.
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