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Minding The Cultural Perception Gap

August is a traditional time for many workers to break away from the 9 to 5 and enjoy some rest and relaxation and, for some, a chance to go abroad and experience a new culture and environment.  The great thing about international travel is being able to see first-hand the people, customs and culture.  Yes, you might get quite a good idea of the country and its people from guidebooks and travel blogs, but it’s not the same as living and experiencing a new culture.  The cultural gap between what we think a new culture is like – and what its really is like – can be pretty wide.

It’s not just our holidays that can suffer from this cultural perception misconception either.  Quite often, the leaders and managers charged with overseeing global expansion haven’t had the opportunity to personally experience new cultures and mindsets through international travel and assignments.  The result is that whilst they have the skills and tenacity to expand operationally, their lack of global awareness means they aren’t always mentally prepared for the challenge.

Good preparation via bespoke international business education can help managers and leaders build three critical areas of awareness that are needed for strong, global mindset.  These are cultural awareness, commercial awareness and self-awareness:

1)    Cultural Awareness

If leaders are to successfully enter new global markets, a high level of cultural awareness is fundamental.  This isn’t purely about getting to grips with cultural norms and customs (although these should never be underestimated), but about having a real thirst for knowledge about how the culture will perceive and use the product. This requires a high level of mental agility and a genuine desire to be open to new thinking and attitudes.

2)    Commercial Awareness 

Knowing how to set up a distribution channel in a new territory or being able to describe the value proposition will require extensive local knowledge, but the real performance gains are made when leaders can decipher this cultural insight and use it to attract the right partners and stakeholders.  After all, there is no point having great cultural insights if you can’t act on them!

3)    Self-awareness

Entering new territories requires a shift in one’s thinking and the recognition that our ‘default position’ about how we tend to act or react may not actually be the most appropriate (or culturally expected). Building long-lasting and profitable relationships can be difficult or even short-circuited by the assumptions about business practices, expectations and mental models.  Good support and training in corporate diplomacy can help support new managers and leaders into their global roles, ideally partnered with opportunities to visit and experience the new culture.

Bridging the cultural gap takes time, effort and commitment but for those who are prepared to invest in these three key areas of awareness, the rewards can be plentiful. If you are going to be abroad for your holiday, make the most of the opportunity to embrace the different language, etiquette, customs and traditions.  Just noticing simple things, such as how people show appreciation, can all help form powerful insight to draw upon next time you come face to face with that culture.  And in today’s multi-global business world, it could be a lot sooner than you think!

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