Obstacles in Intercultural Business and how to overcome them

As today’s world is marked by globalization and its overall consequences and effects, so are today’s economies. International business is affecting nearly every company nowadays. Thus, serious analyses and research regarding the interaction between nations and cultures are essential to creating an efficient intercultural business environment.

Obstacles and Challenges in Intercultural Business

Culturally heterogeneous groups may produce a greater number of ideas. But they tend to perform less well on complex, unstructured tasks. This has been attributed to the fact that, as soon as beliefs or behaviors which have a certain meaning in one culture are not commonly known in another culture, a situation becomes rather complex. In combination with language barriers and stereotypes, various cross-cultural challenges such as misunderstandings and conflicts may arise. These challenges often impede business operations and desired outcomes and lead to a rather tense working environment. So how can diverse groups reconcile cultural differences and perform effectively?

1. Be aware of your own culture and get to know the culture you are interacting with

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A very important point for effective intercultural business is to be aware of your own and of your business partner’s culture and cultural-based values and standards which influence behavior and thinking. The dutch expert for cultural studies Geert Hofstede described culture through the concept of the “cultural onion”.

The outer, visible layers would symbolize cultural symbols, heroes or role models, and rituals. They are observable and describing them is fairly easy. But what creates and forms these outer layers is the invisible core: the values.

To accomplish an understanding of a particular culture, it is vital to not only get to know the apparent behaviors and manners but also to comprehend and acknowledge the core, ie. the values, norms, and guidelines.

2. Observe, understand and acquire your partner’s behaviour

A lot of learning comes from observation. To gain an understanding of how to interact with your counterpart, observing, understanding, and acquiring the manner in which they behave is necessary. While observing and adapting the outer, visible cultural elements like symbols or practices, you can often draw conclusions on the inner core (the values that underlie these elements). By doing so, a better understanding of your counterpart’s behavior and a more effective cross-cultural interaction can be attained.

3. Open communication: Explain and Ask

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The occurrence of stereotypes, language barriers, and differences in behavior requires the ability to open communication. This includes explaining your own point of view and asking about one of your counterparts.

Always make sure that your partner really understands what you are saying. Furthermore, explain your actions as soon as he/she seems puzzled. There also may occur a lack of understanding of why your business partner is behaving in a certain way.

By asking politely and explaining that you do not understand their behavior, confusion or tensions can easily be relieved. To summarize, in order to create strong, successful cross-cultural partnerships, you need to take time for proper preparation. Consider effective ways to conduct intercultural business communication. Some cultures of the world may be similar to your own, but others may vary greatly. Therefore, proper preparation and the ability to be sensitive and open to others’ ideas and opinions as well as the willingness to adapt to your own behavior is essential.