Avoid cultural blunders at your next event10/04/2012
Social norms and taboos must be scrutinized while competing in the international marketplace. Maintaining the image of respect and professionalism may present some problems for companies embarking into the delicate world of cross-cultural business conferences.
Often we hear that there are universal signals, understood by anyone around the world. Careful here. A smile which seems harmless enough may appear to some cultures that you are laughing at them, while forming a ring with your thumb and forefinger means money in Japan, zero in Russia, and is an insult in Brazil. What is your cross-cultural knowledge, and how well do you avoid taboos?
With business travel and outsourcing being such a large part of the MICE industry, cultural sensitivity is crucial. Planning a conference or event in a country other than your own requires a little homework. Even promotional gifts and food and beverages can go awry. Japanese businessmen were offered a promotional gift with a pack of four golf balls at one event; however, the word "four" also means "death" in Japanese, so anything packaged in four is avoided.
Cultural awareness must never be underestimated when doing business internationally. This can be an image issue or a communication issue between countries. Consider your attendees as well as the hosting country when partaking in MICE events. Ask about the normal working hours, since some countries might be more inclined to begin meetings early, others would rather do business later into the evening. Find out whether the international company or team you will be working with has a strong hierarchical system, and remember the subtleties of first impressions and introductions. Should you give a firm hand shake or bow? There are cultures that praise individualism, and those that strive to follow the rules despite all odds. Should you make powerful statements to assert authority, or avoid insulting a superior with firm requests?
Conferences and conventions are a way to introduce new trends, create business connections, and generally give off a good company image. Before you converse with potential international clients at your next trade show, find out what kind of small talk and business conversations are appropriate, as opposed to risk offending by asking personal questions, telling jokes, laughing openly, as all examples can be interpreted as disrespect in some parts of the world.
We already know how to behave around our business partners and clients, how to dress, what topics to avoid, and the general transaction of commerce. Does this mean that we should refrain from business abroad, where we might be less versed in the way of social norms and taboos? Certainly not, but remember to take the receptive countries particular cultural traits into consideration before you enter into a business situation and risk embarrassing yourself or even cause an ugly end a contract.
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