Traveling abroad for business can be an enriching experience if you take the time to appreciate and learn from your host country's customs and worldviews. You will also excel in your business interactions if you extend an olive branch by demonstrating interest in and enthusiasm for their culture.
The best way to adjust to a new culture during business is simply through observation. Patrick Gray, president of the Prevoyance Group, has lived and worked across numerous continents.He suggested, "Watch how others dress, greet each other and interact with other locals."
Local customs are often formed over many generations so you will certainly make mistakes. As long as you're a conscious observer, people will know you're trying and forgive the occasional (and inevitable) missteps.
Practice business etiquette
When you travel for pleasure, you don't just represent yourself. You become an ambassador for your country and your company. Therefore, proper etiquette should be at the forefront of your mind. This means wearing the proper attire, being punctual and not being distracted by your smartphone when in the presence of an important business associate.
Learn about the country
Since the United States' culture and politics reach many corners of the globe, chances are that the people you encounter on your business trip will know the name of our president, have an opinion on government and may even have a favorite American television show. You cannot be an expert on every country (nor should you pretend to be), but you should research the country to develop a basic understanding. This simple gesture will communicate that you are an open-minded individual who thinks globally.
Research differences in manners
You shouldn't just learn about the country in general. You should also research how you should operate in the culture specifically. You are, after all, a visitor and should extend respect, as your host country conceives of it. Just a little research can go a long way in learning what your host country thinks is and is not appropriate.
Think beyond your way
Doing business in a different country can be frustrating because you may perceive flaws in the way they execute their business affairs, just as they may perceive flaws in the way you execute your business affairs. Sometimes there are preferred methods for a particular task, but the optimal approach to a specific business maneuver won't exclusively exist in one country or the other. This is where both cultures can learn from the other. However, since you are a guest in their country, adopt their business manners, at least at first. Enter the culture from a position of humility.
Deal with culture shock
For extended business trips, you may experience culture shock, which often manifests itself in different phases: honeymoon, negotiation, adjustment and acclimation.
During the honeymoon phase, you might see the new culture in a romantic light. The negotiation phase (which can begin after about three months) is when you start to sense the differences between your home culture with your new location in a way that creates anxiety or loneliness. During the adjustment phase (which can last as long as a year, if not longer) you slowly start to feel as if your new culture is normal and any negative feelings may decline. If you reach the acclimation phase, you will feel comfortable and sense that you can be a full participant in the new culture.
While going through the sadder, more difficult phases of culture shock, remember not to take out your frustration on any business clients. On the other hand, when you feel enthusiastic for their culture, feel free to share this with them.