Trust and understanding are the most important building blocks of a healthy, long-lasting business partnership. Even if both the cross-cultural corporations seeking business relationships are fluent in the same language, certain cultural disparities never cease to exist. While living and working in multinationals in different countries, I noticed how there were significant differences in style, structure, and context, though we were both speaking English.
Poor cultural awareness, thus, can lead to lack of clarity in communication, with considerably bigger consequences. As such, negotiations will fail, contracts will be lost, and access to international markets will be hampered.
However, this miscommunication can be reduced by intercultural training, minimizing the second-guessing of cultural standards. It pays off to employ more time and resources in strengthening a productive and mutually respectful relationship between both the business parties.
This point can be illuminated by the example of a particular event involving a Chinese and an American company. The American company was under business negotiations with a Chinese company and was hosting the company’s Chinese delegation at a local restaurant.
At the restaurant, the Chinese delegation was greeted by a junior member of the US team, who asked the head of the Chinese delegation to “sit where you like.” This particular incident offended the Chinese delegation and they left without signing any contract the next day. In this specific case, the cultural differences between the Chinese and the Americans were evident.
In Chinese business culture, hierarchy is critical, and consequently, they are used to being treated accordingly. The head of the Chinese delegation expected to be greeted by the most senior member of the US team and was expected to be offered a position at the head of the table next to the US team leader.
On the other hand, the American business culture has no such strict hierarchical regulations and so they weren’t acquainted with the expected Chinese norms. This cultural misunderstanding was a result of the lack of cross-cultural training and cost both the companies considerable time and resources.