Genetic anthropology demonstrates that human populations have been on the move for the past 200,000 years. We have been migrating from continents and immigrating to countries ever since African Eve -- the first "fearless woman" walked out of Africa. As the first known female genetic ancestor of every person alive today, she proved we all share a common ancestor and therefore, all of us are related. I like to think she had a vision for herself, and for humanity and that in her quest for life, liberty and happiness, she saw the big picture.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave lately, you’re probably experiencing considerable anxiety about the economic condition of the United States. This emotion is immediately followed by further panic when recruiters or employers are asking you to “go global” to make yourself more marketable. That’s if you still have a job.
How and when is all this supposed to happen? Is this a form of outsourcing? I mean, it’s not like you’re ever really going to live or work outside the United States, right? So, why should going global concern you?
It’s Official: Wake Up and Smell the Outsourcing
With the stunning realization that America’s financial crisis is the world’s crisis, the biggest misstep an American woman can make, is to think that fluttering of her entrepreneurial wings does not affect the rest of the world. Or the reverse, that what is happening around the world, doesn’t affect your business. Today, when one country sneezes, very often we all catch a cold.
The other mistake is to not have a passport and think that it’s unlikely that you’ll ever have to work, travel, or live in another country. According to the State Department, although the number of passports issued to Americans has risen, because of post 9/11 homeland security measures, to the tune of about 74 million in 2008, most Americans still view them as just another form of identification.
No Culture Is Foreign, It’s Just Different.
But there is a great deal of fear that comes with going global and things “foreign”. How can you deal with it? One way is to reframe the issue of what is “foreign”. How you frame, or name, what you speak about, determines how to think about it. If you change the semantics, you change your perceptions. With a “clear lens” cultures become less foreign and more familiar. You can also readjust how you think about your place on the earth. You’re part of the global village. You breathe the same air as 4 billion fellow inhabitants. You are not separate from them. In any way. No matter who you are or where you live. Calcutta. Copenhagen. Cincinnati. All. The. Same. Therefore, you, as an American business woman, are a part of the global community. The term international doesn’t refer to those people “over there”. Reframing the way you refer to your place in the world will help you get more comfortable in it. For many Americans, who are like coming of age adolescents, it’s time to get down to business if we are to compete up in the 21st Century global economy.
Multicultural Manners: Handle With Care
As women business owners, the statistically fastest growing sector of the economy, it is incumbent upon us to look ahead to the all the trends that affect our businesses and embrace them with education and an awareness into multicultural manners, in order to do great global business. Because even if you don’t speak another language, as you will find many other people around the world do, it’s wise to know the soft skills that will make your professional, hard skills sing if you are involved in:
- Intercultural Business: In a position to manufacture your scarves in China? You’re going to need to pull guanxi (pronounced gwan-SHEE) or make the right connections before you begin the deal
- Diverse Teams or Intra-Office: Is the new team member on your design project, from India, but you don’t know why he seems unenthused about your concept. Maybe it’s because he is waiting for his boss to tell you.
- ExPat: Have you been assigned to work for an upper management ExPat (Ex-Patriot) who’s just returned from a two-year stint in Prague, but can’t understand his moodiness?
- Relocation: Is your finance background an asset to a firm in Portugal? Do you find yourself upending your life to work there for a year, but unable to cope with the preparations?
These are just a few of the typical examples that require cross cultural professionals to help you do global business, better.
What Makes Them Tick
Of course it’s important to know how to handle ourselves in another culture, but what’s more important, is how we’re being perceived by the other culture. And which behavior on our part will make a good impression. The following chart is actually applicable to many other cultures, with a few tweaks here and there.
Understanding the cognitive behavior — how people process information, or what makes them tick — is the key to giving your business dealings traction, and therefore revenue. Here are some key personality traits that delineate between Western and Eastern national character.
After setting my cultural compass, one way to continue to bridge the cultural gap is to focus on making personal connections, when the time is right. It’s not just these national values one should learn, but also our shared personal interests that can create deeper, more harmonious relationships. After the foundational elements are addressed – whether to kiss, bow or shake hands – you can progress to a more sophisticated level of communication with the help of topic starters. A positive “point of entry” to socialize, conduct business, and create personal relationships.
I find that point of entry through film. You may find it through food, music, or some other conversation starter other than the usual off limits topics like religion and politics. But it’s usually a popular cultural topic that will “speak” to you. Before I travel, I relish in conducting pre-travel homework by starting with a trip to Barnes & Noble. Combing the stacks to find that travel perfect guidebook. Some are linear; others are more contextual. I prefer the contextual ones like the Insight Guides and the Rough Guide because I can understand the story of a culture through literature and film, which gives me a human interest story to relate to. And then of course, there is nothing like researching on the web. Cultural Detective has some really good tools called the Values Lens that have dozens of country specific guides. But no matter where in the world you come from, it’s good to know where you’re going and how to act once you get there, because a little local knowledge goes a long way.