Culture impacts international business in a wide variety of ways. I’ve been taken by surprise many times by the extent of its impact. It’s difficult to identify all of the ways culture impacts business because culture evolves over time. This means different cultures are evolving at different speeds and in different directions.
The advice given in books written only a decade ago can be counterproductive today. And the cultural insights we picked up on our trips after university may not help us in international business today.
So what can you do in an environment where cross-cultural miscommunication and blunders pop up unexpectedly. Well one of the best tactics to work effectively in an international environment is to develop an open mindset.
What is an open mindset? It’s not always easy to grasp and it can have a slightly different meaning to different people. But I’ll have a try at explaining what an open mindset means to me in international business and the steps you need to get there.
Self-Examination For An Open Mindset
There are several steps in the process of self-examination. I’ve put these steps first, but in reality I believe our path to opening our mindset is an on-going one.
- It’s not really something you can pick up once and then assume you’ll always have an open mindset.
- It’s a learning process and some steps take more time than others to absorb.
- Sometimes we need more time or experience to be ready to be able to learn more.
So you’ll also need to come back and revisit these steps as you grow your mindset.
#1: Recognize Your Own Focus
It’s important to understand where you are, what occupies your mindset and how different your viewpoint can be when compared to other cultures. How you set your own vision will determine what you see and how open your mindset is.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong about having a narrow focus for certain activities. We might even need this. But when you are meeting with people from other cultures it’s important to realize just how limiting your own focus or vision is. It’s up to you then to open up or alter your reactions and come back when you are more able to meet people on their level.
#2: Identify Your Assumptions And Question Them
Many “mistakes” in international business begin with our own assumptions and culturally specific expectations being out of sync with another culture. Unfortunately it’s not always easy to identify the assumptions we make because we get so used to our own way of doing things and our own habits.
As you encounter a bit of cross-cultural friction, stop a second and question your assumptions. Take the conversation slower and try to ask the other person the right questions to find out where the friction came from.
#3: Free Yourself Of A Negative Outlook
When we are confronted with different cultures human nature rears it’s head. We tend to view ourselves as being “good” and “right” while others who do things differently to us are quickly labeled as being “bad” or “wrong”. Negative reactions are commonplace.
As soon as you recognize any elitist behavior recognize this and give others to the time you need for them to show you where they are coming from.
#4: Avoid Negative Judgment
People are usually good at understanding why it’s good to avoid quick judgment, but they have rather short definitions for “quick”. In my international business experience I’ve learned to compartmentalize professional from personal expectations and to avoid all negative judgment of people from other cultures. And this has come from making mistakes because there were too many times when I thought I was right passing a negative judgment only to discover my error much later on.
Most negative judgments stem from our incapacity of understanding another culture. Instead of focusing on the negative aspect I see in others, I focus on my own preferences and this usually leads to the right place.
Actions To Open Your Mindset
Once you have looked internally at all of the cultural baggage you bring with your own mindset, then you can work on opening and developing your mindset.
#5: Encourage Interaction
The next step is simply to cultivate interaction and open your mindset further. It’s also about cultivating an open attitude in your actions and making sure your actions are perceived as inviting interaction. So you’ll also hone your cross-cultural skills as you stimulate more interaction from others.
#6: Open Your Communication
When you interact more with people, you’ll probably see ways to open up your own communication a bit more to provide others with a deeper understanding of yourself and your ways of doing things. This is fine-tuning your own communication to come across as more open to communication.
#7: Get Curious And Eager To Learn
An open mindset is a curious mindset. It means you are eager to learn about others in order to understand people from different cultures fully and communicate on a truly one-to-one level. People from other cultures seem to do strange things, but often when we get to know the reasons behind their “strange” behavior, it all makes sense. Different ways of doing things appear normal when they are set in context.
How do you get curious? Questions are important, but adapting your questions to find the right ones to ask people from different cultures is even more important. You’ll need a broad international experience to fully develop your skills in curiosity.
Nurture Your International Talent
An open mindset is a sign of someone who can identify their own strengths and weakness and open their minds to feedback and question who they are. And this open mindset can give you the upper edge in international business when dealing with different cultures. It’s not always easy, but it is always rewarding both on a professional level and on a personal level.
Now, over to you…
- What does an open mindset in international business mean to you?
- How do you develop an open mindset for international business?
- Why do you think an open mindset is important for international business?
What do you think? Please share your thoughts and comments below.
Photos from Shutterstock.
Filed under: International Business
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