International business-travel expenditures hit $1.33 trillion in 2017, according to the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), and that figure is expected to increase to $1.7 trillion by 2022. With that kind of investment in business travel, you would expect business people to be quite interested in making successful intercultural communication a top priority on their trip.
Think about it: Traveling to another country for business will naturally bring you into contact with different cultures and working styles. A handshake is standard in the US, but a hug or even a kiss on the cheek is the norm in many European and Latin American countries—where a handshake may be considered too formal. Similarly, wearing a tie at a conference will seem the norm in Asia or Western Europe, whereas wearing a tie in the US or Australia may cause others to wonder what message you’re trying to send.
This is why a “global mindset” is one of the most important things you can pack on your next international business trip.
A global mindset, simply, is a person’s ability to adapt their behavior to reflect what they have learned about diverse cultural norms, preferences, and styles. It makes it possible for individuals to effectively do business across many different cultures.
The cultural awareness that comes with a global mindset will help ensure that you don’t endanger your business goals simply because you are ignorant of cultural differences. In addition, in a world where 87% of corporate employees say their companies value international assignments, having and maintaining a global mindset can provide significant new business opportunities for many business travelers.
Putting a Global Mindset into Action
So, how do you employ a global mindset during every international business experience? Here’s a step-by-step guide:
Step 1: Do your research. Resources such as RW3 CultureWizard’s “Country Profiles” and “Pocket Guides” can help you get acquainted with what’s typically expected in intercultural communication in your destination locale.
Step 2: Before you even set foot on the plane, speak with the locals. If your company has a local office in the city that you’re visiting, build virtual relationships with some of your colleagues there. After building up a rapport, ask them candidly about the cultural differences you might encounter.
Step 3: Ask your international business colleagues about good, local restaurants for socializing and talking business with clients—depending on which approach is appropriate in their culture. Be sure to ask them about the best way to get around the city, too. Knowing the ins-and-outs can help you keep expenses down while saving time. This is especially important if you’re rushing from one meeting to another.
Step 4: Once you arrive, observe your colleagues in the new culture to see how they act during meetings. Are they more reserved? Do they use a lot of body language? Are they more optimistic? All of these intercultural communication details are important to consider when traveling for international business, and will contribute to the development of your global mindset.
Step 5: Maintain your personal authenticity. The idea of a global mindset is not for you to become a carbon copy of your international hosts, because that wouldn’t be authentic, and locals will see right through it. Instead, the goal is for you to understand how business culture works in the new city so you can be as effective there as you are at home.
Bonus Cross-Cultural Communication Tips
Developing a global mindset is a lifelong learning process, so it’s important to try to always keep learning. Here are some basics to help you continually develop your knowledge over time:
- Speak to the cab drivers and fellow commuters.
- Pick the brains of the hotel workers where you’re staying.
- Immerse yourself in the culture as much as possible to broaden your understanding of how they’re interacting with you.
- If it seems appropriate, ask for recommendations for places to visit or foods to eat.
In other words, do your best to get to know the culture you’re working with. You’ll find that people just about everywhere love talking about their city and their country, and they’ll typically be happy to help you as long as you make your request in a way that conveys respect.
Always remember that international business travel is an opportunity to expand your and your company’s network in a significant way. Having a global mindset will assist you in the creation of strong relationships, creating trust, and maintaining clear communication. So pack that global mindset and take it with you all the time to take complete advantage of every intercultural opportunity that comes up!