Open mind vital for opening doors

By Helen Frances

Building successful international relationships means absorbing market intricacies and cultural differences.

Look for common ground to build relationships overseas. Photo / Getty Images
Look for common ground to build relationships overseas. Photo / Getty Images

Being curious about the differences while seeking common ground is a practice that works well for Tim Deane when he does business in cultures overseas.

The director - global sales (ingredients) at Fonterra leads 360 people in sales teams working from over 30 offices worldwide, selling to 112 countries, with annual revenue of $12 billion. So when asked about the essentials for growing a career internationally, Deane has plenty of experience to draw upon.

"You need to be fairly curious and genuinely want to try and understand the cultures you are working in."

Having respect and being respectful is crucial - rather than thinking, "That's strange". And being genuinely humble, "Coming across as sincerely wanting to learn and understand the different cultures you work in."

Deane says that in some cultures, known as low context cultures "the deal is the deal".

"You go in, talk about the transaction or the arrangements and you do the deal. That's common in some Western countries."

In the Middle East or Asian countries where there are "high context" cultures, it's important to spend time getting to know the people you are doing business with, and for them to get to know you. In Japan the relationships are as important as the deal itself.

"It would be very usual for them to want to come to New Zealand, see where the product comes from, meet the people that make it, meet the senior leaders in the organisation."

Korea, he says, has a very hierarchical structure and New Zealand is at the opposite end of that spectrum. "If you are in Korea at the table for lunch [it's important to] understand that staff sitting at the table won't speak until the senior person has spoken first."

Deane looks for common ground when building relationships. "If I'm going to Argentina I know that in some parts of the country they are keen rugby players so I might start by trying to build a bridge there."

When training local people he says it is important to ensure clear communication when English is their second language, although many employees in Europe and the Middle East are multi-lingual.

Phil Holdsworth, Head of Asia for Impact International, a talent development firm, says that when entering a new cultural group people often experience "cognitive dissonance" where their "rules" and norms are different or they don't know what the norms are.

"The level to which you experience this is dependent on how 'different' the culture is but also on how open you are to adopt and adapt."

Wary of stereotyping geographical cultures, he notes there are more differences within a culture than there are across cultures. "A challenge for New Zealanders moving to a new country to live and work is to not be sucked in by stereotyping but be open and curious to the people and things around them.

He says every culture has a predominance of group, individual or hierarchy and this influences work practices. "Group cultures recognise successes as team successes and are uncomfortable with highlighting and rewarding individual performance. Those that expect this can be frustrated that their own individual efforts are not recognised."

A manager, building teams in collectivist cultures, needs to invest time and energy into the professional and social development of the team and not overly focus on any one or a few individuals. "The opposite is, of course, true for cultures that value individualism more."

Relationships and communication pose the greatest challenges. Holdsworth, who is English, believes New Zealanders prefer and are most comfortable with direct communication. "English prefer a slightly less direct experience and other countries prefer a much more indirect way of communicating."

One-to-one, the manager of their Shanghai office will be direct, as he knows Holdsworth understands that approach more easily.

"When we meet with clients or with the other people in the team he will use an indirect style. He might say, "Phil, I'm very sorry because I have forgotten the purpose of this meeting, can you tell me again?" What he actually means is "Phil, get back on track!"

- NZ Herald

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