When Cultures Collide
Cultural differences often hinder well-intentioned business dealings in a way that could have easily been avoided had the parties involved decided to look into their business partner’s culture beforehand. Mr. José Ramírez is a prime example of someone who fell casualty to the intricacies of doing business with those of another culture. Mr. Ramírez and his colleagues from Mexico arrived a few minutes after the scheduled time at the meeting to the annoyed looks on the German team’s faces. The laughing and smiling amongst themselves faded away as they greeted their business partners with handshakes and introduced themselves. During negotiations, the Mexicans were surprised by the bluntness of the Germans. They criticized sharply several ideas that they brought to the table in favor of their own ideas and would not retreat from their stance even when the Mexicans felt that they had expressed their discontent about it. At the end of the day, it was decided to continue on the following morning. Mr. Ramírez invited the Germans to join them for supper later that evening, but they declined his invitation each time that he insisted. He, along with his team, did not understand why the Germans were behaving so coldly towards them.
The next day when they resumed their meeting, the proceedings did not go as smoothly as hoped and resulted in the two parties not reaching an agreement and ultimately deciding not to go further in business relations. Mr. Ramírez felt that the Germans were treating his team rudely, even attacking them, and did not want to pursue a business relation with them if this is how they were going to be treated. The Germans were baffled as to why the Mexicans backed out of the negotiations. They believed things were going well and that any outstanding issues had been ironed out; when the Mexicans had misgivings about something, the Germans clarified their position and assuaged it. They had exhibited the utmost level of professionalism and were looking forward to a productive relationship with the Mexicans.
Cultural Norms and Values
Habits or behaviors which may seem inappropriate to one person can be perfectly normal for another person. It is important to be aware of the cultural differences between oneself and those of another culture.
“Taking a step back and then recognize that it is nothing personal but the culture may help a lot” also says HHL full-time MBA student Yang Song from China.
The norms and values of one group of people may be completely different from those of another; these norms and values influence the way people live their lives. They come from a multitude of different sources and shape the cultures of the world. Children grow up in a culture where they learn what is acceptable and unacceptable according to their culture. Everyone around them behaves in like manner and they know how to navigate their world. But once they go somewhere that doesn’t live by the same unspoken rules and principles, they may face embarrassment or even ridicule. To be successful in another culture, one must be, at the very least, aware of the differences. A business person does not need to completely adapt to the other culture’s way of doing things, but a little understanding goes a long way. Understanding another’s culture helps one look past the differences in order to focus on the task at hand. It is also beneficial to understand one’s own culture – to understand why they do the things they do and why they do them in that way. When both sides of the situation are understood, it is much easier to find a middle ground that will allow the groups involved to be productive.
Can Adiguzel, HHL full-time MBA student, gained the same experience: “The intercultural working context was a challenge in the beginning and it took time to build a common ground. Initially, when you have two different perspectives, no one wants to compromise, it could be any issue until you build a confident relationship by time.”
In an ever increasingly global world, the need to be able to traverse cultures is growing rapidly. It is nearly impossible to avoid contact with someone of a different culture. And inevitably, one must perform some sort of transaction with someone who does not come from the same culture as themselves. Thus grows the necessity of helping people learn how they can better prepare for doing business in another culture. HHL’s MBA program is made up of 80 – 90% international students, many of which want to stay in Germany after they finish their program. For this reason, a training program of how to navigate the German business culture was created. This training session informs international students about things they can expect when dealing with their future German business partners. It is meant to give them a guide to interacting with members of the German business world. More than a “Dos and Don’ts” list, it teaches the participants aspects of the German business culture so that they can build an understanding of why Germans act the way they do.
HHL’s full-time MBA student Anindhia Restraningtyas not only attended the intercultural training program but also the HHL’s leadership competency development program “New Leipzig Talents”: “I received coaching by the HR Vice President of Xing and she provided me very valuable suggestions of how to deal with people from different nationalities. The purpose of the coaching itself is not about the courses from the technical perspective but from the social perspective” she says.
Understanding has been defined before as the obtaining of knowledge and information, including its application to life. When one understands another culture, they can use the information they have learned to benefit their interactions with them.