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2017-01-14

Cultural Sensitivity in the Business World

 

We all know that the world is getting smaller, figuratively speaking. Due to many factors such as the Internet, more efficient and cheaper travel and the demand to expand into new markets, there is an escalation of cultural clashes that are being confronted in the business world.

As people interact and do business these cultural differences become highlighted and magnified. One would assume that over time these unique features of various cultures would meld or shape into an accepted mix. We are obviously not at that point yet as can be observed by anyone doing business across cultures can tell you.

 

Any business that wishes to expand into new territories and considers themselves an eventual multinational organization will inevitable encounter the need to conduct cross-cultural training and engage in some form of procedural flexibility. For forward thinking business management, the potential that exists in foreign markets is too strong to avoid these obstacles for long. As the cliché says “you have to break some eggs to make an omelet”.

 

Cultural differences between the USA, the UK and Europe have a major impact on business dealings today and will continue to do so in the future. I recall a conversation with an HR person who had to explain training needs for employees returning from maternity leave to their American based headquarters in Houston. The American HR was puzzled as to why such extensive training was needed, but after explaining that the employees had been on leave for two years the American HR department had difficulty wrapping their minds around this situation.

 

This requires even greater flexibility when looking past the typical Western Cultural locations. In the past, businesses in America and Europe typically had little or no competition in other markets. That is increasingly changing and many financial experts have been campaigning for their upper management to strategize forward into areas that have been largely untapped, whether the focus is on South American, Asia or Africa. Business leaders are well aware of the impact that language skills and cultural sensitivity have on an organization.

 

People who come from different religious, political and cultural backgrounds tend to assume that their way should be at a minimum accepted when dealing with foreign business partners. When these differences are not accounted for, the lessons learned can be not only disastrously embarrassing but also extremely expensive. Cultural sensitivity that creates a sense of flexibility, empathy and creativity should be the goal of any business with international aspirations.