Travel through cultures

Your corporate trip may be well-prepared, perfectly organized, with amazing scenery and you may have a good command of foreign languages, but when you come into contact with people of other nationalities and cultures, or cooperate with foreign business partners and clients, you still might come across unexpected difficulties.


How we perceive reality, interpret behaviors, gestures and do business in general depends, to a large extent, on the cultural background of our interlocutor, contractor or business partner.   


In many countries and cultures, personal relations and mutual trust are essential in the decision-making process: they will mean fruitful cooperation and will lead to a signing of the contract. If you do not know the culture, working style and how to communicate, this may lead to serious misunderstandings. It may hinder progress in partnership talks and may even ‘freeze’ business contacts, or it may even lead to an end in cooperation.


In the culture of southern Europe, for example, before we get to talk business, our interlocutors will first ask us about our family, children and even our personal life. You will be under the impression that they are doing everything possible to postpone concrete talks about business until later. But don’t take this personally!


If we do not know the customs and broadly understood cultural background of our interlocutors and their foreign habits, which may be very different from ours, then conflict and irritation, and even failure in the talks is inevitable.


Why aren’t we talking business? – an interlocutor from a ‘distant’ North-European culture will ask. And we are not talking about ‘distance’ measured in kilometers here either.


The worst are the small, almost invisible cultural differences, such as values​​, attitudes and behaviors, which can have a huge impact on the course of the negotiations. At first glance they are often invisible.

But the interpretation of gestures and facial expressions, such as the “German way", can lead to far-reaching misunderstandings.

"Would you like some coffee?", "No, thank you. " "So let's continue ..." Actually, a Polish guest would drink some coffee, but in his/her culture it is not socially acceptable to say "yes” to the offer immediately. And that is too bad, because the conversation could be so much warmer then.


So what do the words "yes", "no" or "of course, that’s interesting” really mean when it comes to the cultural background? What does eye contact mean, and what does a wandering look really say?


In Germany, the conclusion of a contract means sealing all the conditions of cooperation, whereas in other cultures the signing of a contract is the moment where you really begin to negotiate, that is ‘renegotiate’.


It is a well-known fact that a successful meeting, on the level of diverse cultures, depends on many factors, of which the most important and least predictable is the individual. Each one of us possesses complex behavioral mechanisms that make cooperation between people more interesting, but at the same time more difficult. A meeting of representatives of different cultures and languages means a crossroads of different customs and habits.


Intercultural competence prevents conflicts and misunderstandings in international relations, and is essential to conduct successful business in other countries. And this does not only apply to exotic African or Asian markets. In Europe, and even in Poland, there are also profound differences in the way thoughts are expressed.


A well-conducted corporate trip can turn out to be a small intercultural training session, which will show you what you should do in order to avoid misunderstandings in interpersonal relations at an international level.


In practice, this will save you time, money and nerves. It can also lead to fast and fruitful negotiations and will allow you to establish permanent contacts based on mutual trust.


A corporate trip can also be a journey into other cultures, which will provide you with greater insight and help you build long-lasting interpersonal ties.


Copyright © 2011 Tomasz Wawrzyński