A Guide to Cultural Nuance in International Business

It’s no secret that working with overseas companies or developing trade connections with them can be a great move for a business.

The international markets naturally open a company up to a wider choice of potential new customers and clients, however in securing this new business there can be obstacles to overcome in the form of differing cultural nuances.

What is ‘Cultural Nuance’?

The definition of cultural nuance is very much what it says on the tin, it’s simply some of the little differences in behaviours and attitudes that the varying cultures of the world have – and in some cases expect. Take the UK for instance, if you were meeting a client you would most probably dress smartly and speak with them politely and formally; expecting the same behaviour from them in return.
The issue then from a business perspective is that you can risk upsetting, misreading or accidently offending a prospective new client or customer by not observing their particular nuances. This is why understanding cultural nuances in business is so important.

A Few Different Examples

To give you an idea of just how varied cultural nuances can be around the world, here are a few examples you might encounter in the business world:

  • In Japan, appointments should be made with several weeks’ notice and punctuality is very important. Japanese business culture also dictates that during meetings, attendees prefer a non-confrontational approach - and it’s customary at the end of a meeting to present a gift to the most senior person.
  • Business culture in Saudi Arabia tends to mean having meetings in the morning is preferred and will often begin with more informal conversations before business proceedings begin. Saudi business people can also be notoriously ruthless with negotiations and prefer to take their time when making decisions.
  • Even across our European neighbours you can also encounter different customs. For example in Germany negotiations will often be very direct and your business credentials and the quality of academic qualifications may be taken into account before a meeting. In Italy it’s beneficial to provide documentation in both English and Italian and it’s quite common for people to speak over one another in meetings. Also in Sweden, being punctual is one of the most important parts of business and if you’re late it can reflect very badly on you and your business.

Be Prepared

For further assistance with this you can find out a few more examples of the different cultural aspects you may encounter on your international travels via our Understanding Cultures and Business Meeting Etiquette pages. Other than this, simple preparations before meeting with overseas clients can make a big difference. You can:

  • Dress and behave in a formal manner
  • Conduct your own research into the respective cultures of the places you’re visiting
  • Perhaps learn a few phrases for greeting your associates
  • Don’t be phased by the practises or processes
  • Hire a translator to accompany you
  • Use the services of an already established global company that have experience and expertise – for example TNT for international deliveries, imports and exports

To return to a key point, to make sure you take advantage of the vast amount of opportunities the international markets have to offer, you need to ensure your meetings and communications run smoothly. So consider some of the ideas we’ve suggested and soon you could be enjoying the benefits – both commercial and financial – that worldwide business can bring.