Remember how Mom always told us to be careful with strangers?
When it comes to doing business, it appears people around the world are heeding her advice –albeit to a varying degree.
Obviously, we’re talking about business relationships
here. Humans universally prefer to deal with people they know and trust. Business interactions are generally more
predictable, effective, and dependable with trusted partners than with strangers. Nevertheless, members of different cultures
seem to be drawing vastly different conclusions from these findings. Analyzing the overall role relationships play in their
business practices, we can identify four different groups of cultures:
relationships are moderately important. Members of cultures belonging to this group, which includes Americans,
Australians, Austrians, Canadians, Germans, and others, usually do not view strong relationships a necessary precondition for
business interactions. Being task-oriented, they tend to focus on near-term financial or strategic benefits rather than
long-term relationship aspects. Though they expect to get to know the other party better while doing business together, they
do not need to trust someone in order to make a deal with him or her. Many in this group are reluctant to invest significant
time and effort into relationship building, in particular during the early stages of business engagements. In addition,
business ties exist mostly at the corporate level: if a new company representative is introduced into an existing relationship,
that person is usually soon accepted as a valid business partner.
relationships are important. These cultures tend to value trust between business partners more highly. While
they may also engage in deal making without first getting to know their counterparts, members of this group will strive to learn
much more about them over the course of the exchange. Once initial interactions have been successful and trust has been
established, a sense of loyalty may develop. Relationships still mostly exist at the corporate level with this group, but
individual employees usually also aim to strengthen personal ties. These characteristics apply to many European cultures, among
them Finland, France, Hungary, Northern Italy, Poland, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and others.
relationships are very important. People in this group of cultures, which includes Indians, Hong Kong Chinese,
Koreans, Mexicans, Pakistanis, Russians, Saudi Arabs, Southern Italians, and Spaniards, as well as most Latin Americans, highly
value lasting and trusting business relationships. They prefer to do business with those they know and like, and may spend
significant time building and strengthening relationships. They mostly focus on longer-term engagements and repeat
business. When members of this group engage in business interactions without first spending time to get to know their
counterparts, this likely indicates that they are seeking quick gains and are not interested in longer-term business with the other
party. The concept of corporate relationships does not mean much to this group. Since business is viewed as personal,
individuals expect to spend considerable time and effort to develop close ties with their immediate counterparts even when their
companies have a long history of doing business together.
relationships are critically important. Members of cultures belonging to this group, among them Asian
countries such as China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, and also Brazil, or Egypt, and others, prefer to build
deep and lasting relationships with prospective partners before entering into any serious business engagements. They may
expect to develop such relationships into true friendships as the business partnership continues. With people in this group, it
is vital to spend considerable time and effort building strong relationships through- out the business exchange. They tend
to pay little attention to contracts, since most of them believe that the strength of business relationships matters much more
than ‘a piece of paper’ does. Keeping in touch with them on a regular basis ensures that commitments will be kept and
opens doors for additional business. Since they mostly focus on long-term engagements and repeat business, decision makers may
agree with unfavorable initial deals, expecting their new partners to make up for this down the road. They do not pay much
attention to corporate-level connections, since few of them believe that business relationships can be successful without strong
These characterizations provide clues as to what to expect and
where to focus your energy when conducting business with people from other countries. However, be careful not to take them
at face value. They apply only to business areas that are not critically dependent on personal relationships. In some
industries, such as banking, financial services, or legal counseling, the nature of business interactions makes strong trust
between the parties involved vitally important no matter what their cultural background. Regardless of cultural background
and type of business, though, spending time and effort to build closer relationships in international interactions is always
conducive to business and therefore strongly recommended.