Connecting with other people at the workplace is always a challenge when you start at a new job, and now with the global workplaces it gets even trickier. There are two key aspects here, one would say: one is the business communication, and the other is the personal one. One thing is to know about the cultural norms of the business world in a certain country, and another to know about connecting with people on a personal note. But as research and expat experience shows, there is not such a distinct line between these two. Which of course makes sense, because business may be business, but is still conducted by people. So when aspiring to maintain a fruitful business relationship, being able to connect with people on a real, human note is crucial. And when travelling to a new country, or working with people from different cultures, new challenges arise. So get prepared for them, and do your homework in advance!
First of all research and knowledge are always key. They are the basis of all the other skills that make up cross-cultural competence, the set of skills that enables you to find your way around different cultures. The first step is to gather information and learn about the country you are travelling to, or the culture of the people you are planning to work with. Learn about their ways of communication, their work style, time management, what they consider important, whether they are more task- or people oriented etc. You can even learn about the politics, because sometimes that as well has a say in how people in certain cultures communicate, negotiate and work. For example if a culture tends to be more nationalistic, that can show in their communication and negotiation style.
But it is important to keep in mind that while gathering knowledge about the other culture is a must, having knowledge about your own is important as well. Just as in any interpersonal communication it is really important to know yourself, in cross-cultural communication it is just as important to know your own culture, and what you are bringing with yourself, how you are different compared to the people you are going to work with. This helps in getting a certain distance from your own perspective, and enables you to be more open towards any possible scenario. And while being aware of the cultural differences, and using your knowledge about the other culture, it is best to stay authentic, and do not try too hard. You can be polite and respectful without losing what makes you you, and people generally tend to appreciate authenticity. And by not wanting to surpress your personality traits that are deeply rooted in your cultural background, you bring your own culture to the table, which helps keeping up the diaogue between partners.
Another component of successfully connecting with your business partners from different cultures is focusing on what you have in common rather than only on the differences. While being aware of the cultural differences helps keeping an open mind and staying interested towards each other, acknowledging the similarities creates a bond. People love feeling that at the end of the day they are not so different.
As a conclusion we can say that increasing your cultural competence requires cultural knowledge, which means always being willing to learn, and choosing the relevant and authentic sources you can gather your knowledge from. And when you have a strong basis, you can start building on it with your actions, driving your cross-cultural business communication to success.