Pick up just about any book on cross-cultural relations, or observe about just about any cross-cultural training program you’ll almost always read about major faux pas; a thumbs up gesture in the wrong country, giving the wrong gift for that particular culture, for example. Perhaps you’ll read about the often-referenced incident involving former US President George Bush Sr. and his infamous “V” gesture in Australia, given in a manner that is considered a vulgar gesture in Australia. These are good examples and it is important to identify such major cultural breaches. Certainly at Global Business Approach we also inform our clients likewise. These particular breaches are serious enough that a single incident can topple a relationship, sour a deal, cause a business partnership to fall apart, or any number of serious consequences.
But, particularly given there is so shortage cultural information about what are major taboos, these incidents are not very common, especially these days as our world is very connected. Almost global businessperson, global manager, or global worker does at least that amount of research. What causes the most cultural friction are generally the little things. The day-to-day acts of socializing, how work is approached, how leaders are viewed and treated, done frequently during the day and on an ongoing daily basis, that cause the most cultural friction. In short, how we socialize and function among our own culture, which is perfectly normal and natural for us, inevitably causes some degree of friction when interacting with those from outside our culture. And likewise when those from outside our culture interact with us, with their own cultural manners and what they consider right and proper, that often ends up “rubbing us the wrong way”. The problem is, we often can’t put our finger on it, since rarely a single incident of that nature will topple a relationship. What happens rather, is such minor breaches occur, building up, until one or more of the cultures involved decide “you just can’t work with those people from Country XYZ!”. As stated in an earlier post, it’s important to learn and understand culture and how it relates to human psychology, to avoid misunderstandings. You see, it hasn’t been the major breaches that caused most of the international business ventures failures (like Walmart’s failure in Germany), it was the build of of day-to-day small things. And there are so many small nuances and mannerisms in all cultures and that there are numerous different cultures in the world, that a country-by-country study becomes impractical. Rather, as we at Global Business Approach feel, a base and deep understanding of the make up of cultural, knowing, recognizing and adapting to the various cultural dimensions, is the best approach to developing cross-cultural skills and becoming an effective global manager.