A popular approach is to present lists of behaviors in the host country, ranging from those that are desirable to those that are taboo. Business travelers memorize checklists of do’s and don’ts—and then mistakenly feel as though they’re prepared to deal with cultural differences in the host country.
What’s the problem with that approach? Cultures have many layers. Those checklists tend to focus on the more superficial aspects of culture. We’re told, for example, “Don’t point the soles of your feet at people in Saudi Arabia,” “Don’t pat a child on the head in Laos,” etc. Because the checklists skim the surface level of culture rather than plumb its depths, they end up giving misleading advice about how to interact effectively. A particular tip may be an appropriate guideline, say, twenty percent of the time—but dead wrong in the situation you actually find yourself in. The deeper differences in cultural logic are missed. This is especially true when dealing with the complex set of cultural realities at play throughout the Indian subcontinent.
Most intercultural misunderstandings stem from deeper cultural differences—different ways of seeing power, hierarchy, identity, time, space, communication, context and relationships. These deeper cultural realities are a much greater factor in the success or failure of business transactions than most people realize.
Intercultural consultants can help you to understand the cultural differences at a deeper level. A deeper approach seeks to help the traveling businessperson know how to shift cultural frames of reference and behave in culturally appropriate ways in different contexts. Being able to do this is what we call “intercultural competence” or “global mindset.”