Strong relationships are built on trust and influence wherever you are in the world. Focus on developing trust, and show interest and respect for other cultures. Learn to see the world from the perspective of other cultures, rather than just your own.
Culture affects how quickly relationships can be formed and what obligations are assumed from these relationships. In European cultures, where mobility has traditionally been low, communities are guarded about sharing personal information: relationships tend to be formed slowly. Trust is only earned over time. In mobile societies like the United States, relationships tend to be developed quickly before people move on.
It is vital not to misread cultural signals, because this can undermine trust. In the office, character, competence, and confidence are key to trust, but it is possible to misread signals in these areas:
- Character: People who are used to explicit communication can confuse indirectness with lying and begin questioning someone’s integrity.
- Competence: In some cultures, family connections influence position, but this does not mean that these managers lack expertise.
- Confidence: An individualist working with someone from a harmony-driven culture might confuse modesty with weakness.
A quick way to build relationships is to show a genuine interest in the other person’s culture. Many Westerners focus on getting work done, and only then – time allowing – work at building relationships. To other cultures, this appears impersonal. Typically, people everywhere are happy to talk about their culture. When you are on a business trip, show an interest in your surroundings. For example, “On the way from the airport, I saw people singing and dancing. Can you tell me what the festival is about?”
Global organizations depend on deep and strong collaboration across borders. Consider sponsoring cross-border events, such as training workshops. Think about creating global bulletin boards on the intranet, where people can share international experiences. Intranets are useful for producing learning modules on cultural awareness, and for networking and teamwork.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- What do people in this culture expect of a relationship?
- Are relationships in this culture traditionally built quickly or slowly?
- What will make a good impression?
- Is trust assumed, or must it be earned over time?
- What needs to be done in order to keep the relationship strong?