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    Understanding Local Cultures during Global Business Travel

    During a recent visit to Turks and Caicos in the Caribbean, I was impressed, although not surprised, with the level of service provided throughout my stay. I thought about how culture impacts relationship building and customer service. Around the world, individuals from certain cultures tend to have a more natural ability to develop relationships. A few examples of these cultures include Greece, Italy, Spain, and Mexico. This is particularly important in places in the world like Turks and Caicos where hospitality is their primary industry. The hospitality I experienced in Turks & Caicos offered a level of kindness that seemed to go beyond a typical customer service training course. As I dug deeper into learning about the local culture, I thought about how islanders also tend to be great relationship builders. I know this first hand from working in the resort industry on the Greek Islands (by the way, a fabulous experience) and also from having ancestry from the island of Corfu in the Ionian Islands. Having the natural ability to develop relationships with customers tends to translate to a high level of customer service especially in places like Turks and Caicos.

    Repatriation from the Island Life

    When I repatriated (returned to my home country, the United States, after working in Crete and Corfu, Greece for a few years), I hit the wall as we say. I discovered a lot of resistance toward how I could offer value to global organizations based in the United States. I was trilingual (English, German, Greek) and I had been working on a European team catering to a global clientele. This was in 1995. That was over twenty years ago. Unfortunately there still remains resistance in the topic of how national culture impacts business. Some examples include how one’s culture impacts the way someone leads a negotiation, how they communicate, and how they view time which directly impacts how they perceive deadlines. We cannot take national culture out of global business. Each culture has specific characteristics that make it unique. By learning these cultural characteristics, we are more equipped to handle daily tasks and challenges in the global business environment. Knowing someone’s cultural background in addition to their background and experience, their company culture values, and all of the other variables needed to manage business effectively will only help us toward achieving global success.

    Self Awareness and Understanding

    How do we tap into our own cultural background and translate it to benefit us in our personal and professional life? How do we identify these cultural characteristics in cultures other than our own?

    We increase our knowledge of cultures and we increase our self awareness and understanding of ourselves and others. Improving our self awareness is not easy. It is about making a personal change in one’s thought process. We need to be aware of our own cultural background and how it impacts our work style. We also need to be able to adapt our work style to meet the needs of the other party. Having a high level of awareness allows us the opportunity to tune in to why we do the things the way we do and how it impacts others and it also allows us to view situations from our client’s perspective not just our own. Knowing what our client or colleague needs and adapting our approach so the other person has a better understanding will enhance the overall relationship whether you are working in the resort industry on a beautiful island, working in oil and gas on a rig out at sea, or in an office headquarters in Chicago.

    Your Island Challenge

    Whether you are traveling for business or pleasure during the summer months, I challenge you to look around and to ask questions about the local culture. Take a moment to talk with people when you are traveling and to learn about their way of life and how they get things done. You might be surprised at how much you can learn about yourself in this process and how you can improve your own self awareness.

    At the end of the day, whatever time zone you are in, business is about people. When we think we can work globally with other people from around the world without considering their cultural background, we are missing opportunities. How much more successful could you be if you took a moment to consider how the individual or team’s culture could impact their work style and how you might adapt your mindset to meet their needs?

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