Developing a Global Mindset to Improve Your Local Business Dealings

By Vernon Hills, President, PolyJohn International

I travel over 250,000 miles a year because I know there is no substitute for getting to know your customers personally. 

Successful international sales require my physical presence, because customers around the world like to develop friendships that serve as a foundation for long-term business relationships. Even though I may live 3,000 miles away, my occasional visits give them the confidence that I am close enough to get to know them, to appreciate their needs, and to be there when they need me. 

So I travel—as the Chinese proverb says, "If you want to hunt tigers, you have to go into the bush." 

Over my years of traveling, I have familiarized myself with many local customs and cultural norms. While there are more similarities than differences, there are certain things I try to remember when dealing with different cultures. For example, when you are invited to dinner, always sample the food they offer—no matter how strange it looks! 

Consider the simple action of eye contact. British and Americans accept it as an indicator of honesty and com-petence. However, eye contact is not as valued in Asian cul-tures, where it is better to look down when speaking to show your respect. 

Westerners are taught to "speak up in school," to debate their views and make presentations. On the other hand, the Asian culture considers “quiet” to be a sign of respect, which we could mistakenly interpret as a lack of decisiveness. 

Another example is how to begin a sales transaction. Westerners are very task oriented in business and want to get started right away, where Asians tend to be more relationship oriented. I’ve learned that I can accomplish more when doing business with Asians if I invest more time in relationship building. 

The ability to adjust to different cultures is called having a global mindset. I call it common sense. While you may never make a deal outside the US borders, you do have to deal with different cultures every day, whether you are talking to customers or supervising employees. Cultural differences don't always parallel ethnicity. For example, people have different styles of learning, different preferences in receiving and using information, different work ethic and tolerance for waiting or distraction. 

Even though they may all live in your local community, a vast array of differences exist. These differences may be personality, cultural, or lifestyle; but each has unique rules of behavior and values. People may be Asian American, African American, Latino, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Baptist, Mormon, etc. Or they may be country or urban, male or female, white collar or blue collar, old or young, college grad or high school dropout, shy or outgoing, Democrat or Republican, leader or follower, hippie or 
ex-military…you get the picture. 

You may not be dealing with language barriers or other international differences, but the differences are just as real. It’s no wonder there can be miscommunication, misunderstanding and occasional frustration. 

That’s why it is important for all sales-people and managers of employees to maintain a “global mindset.” You need to accept that the differences between people are real, that they are important, and that you can learn to adjust to them. 

Think about your customers’ and employees’ cultures at home. How are they different from yours? Do these differences influence their reaction to you? What judgments will they make? Can you approach them in a way that puts them more at ease with you? What judgments are you making about them? Are your judgments prejudicial? 

Part of making adjustments is listening more and talking less, and making some concessions to the differences you perceive. For example, if they wear denim, you wear denim. If they wear a tie, you wear a tie. If they have different religious holidays, try to remember this and show your respect for their beliefs. Even if they are fans of a sports team that you dislike—find common ground. 

Understanding different beliefs, habits, and cultures is essential to your business. It makes employees more comfortable working for you, and it makes customers more willing to do business with you. If not aware of cultural differences, it can create friction and result in increased turnover or customer dissatisfaction. 

Large corporations sponsor “Diversity Training.” However, in a smaller company it might be best to simply talk about customers’ and employees’ likes and dislikes, communicate with them, get to know them, and be willing to accept differences.