Like so many things in our rapid-fire business world, people always want to know if there are shortcuts when dealing with issues of cultural diversity. Businesses know they need to develop sound listening skills and observational integrity, but want to fast forward their relationship building skills and still have the same results.
There is no cookie-cutter rule on how long it takes to build good relationships since so much depends on what two people meeting for the first time have in common, whether their business interests are aligned or widely separated, and if they can experience a cultural degree of comfort with each other.
So while there is no formula to speed up relationship building skills, there is one factor that can be guaranteed to slow it down.
That is when one of the parties involved fails to show respect for the other.
The challenge when dealing in multicultural worlds is not so much just resolving not to be rude, for that could be managed by most of us. The challenge instead is how not to mistakenly cause disrespect through lack of understanding of the culture and protocols of the person with whom we are trying to build a new relationship.
For that we need cultural competence, but we will still risk walking into quicksand if we assume that we can do our research and prepare ourselves so well in advance that we don’t need help.
There is no website, no book, and no course that can teach you all you need to know about someone else’s culture. In this case, by culture we mean not only doing business in different countries or with Indigenous people, but people in different companies and different industries whose way of doing things may be completely different from our own.
That is why we need to solicit the help of guides who have insider knowledge of the places we want to go in that relationship. These people, and there are usually more than one, can move us from step to step until we get to the person with whom we need to connect.
A guide can tell us things we can’t know from titles or quick observations. For example, they can tell us if the leader is really the leader, or if someone you would least expect is making all the decisions. They can tell you whether it is appropriate to engage in small talk before turning to business, or to launch right into the issue at hand as soon as you sit down.
You can use your instinct and your research and even your charm to move relationships along as quickly as possible.
But you cannot fast-track your way over gaps in understanding in today’s multicultural business world. It is only by slowly and deliberately using principles to guide mutual understanding and respect that you can get to the degree of comfort and agreement that you seek.