This series is edited by Dick Locke, SI’s resident expert on International Trade, author of Global Supply Management — A Guide to International Procurement (which was the definitive guide for almost a decade), and President of the Global Procurement Group which regularly gives seminars on International Trade and working with International Cultures.
As per Wikipedia, culture is a term that has various meanings. For example, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of 164 definitions of “culture” in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions.
For our purposes, we’ll define culture as the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, practices, qualities, and beliefs regarding daily interaction, manners, arts, and worthwhile pursuits for a characterizeable group of people.
Culture is important because, as noted by social scientist Geert Hofstede, it conditions individuals’ responses to their environment. Deeply embedded inside each of us, culture affects our mannerisms, our manner of speaking, our dress, and just about every other aspect of our personality. Since it deeply affects who we are, it affects the way we do business, and an understanding of different cultures is thus deeply important when conducting international trade.
Therefore, this series will continue what Dick and I started last year in Overcoming Cultural Distances in International Trade by not only defining what Cultural Intelligence is, but discussing some of the basics of cultural intelligence with respect to each of the seven countries we covered last year: China, Germany, India, Japan, (South) Korea, Mexico, and Thailand.
But first, we’ll discuss some characteristics of culture, as put forward by David C. Thomas and Kerr Inkson in their book Cultural Intelligence, People Skills for Global Business. Culture is:
and people within a group have it in common, so even if each individual in the group has a distinct personality, each member of the group shares a common understanding
- Learned and Enduring
as it is absorbed over long periods of time and deeply ingrained
- A Powerful Influence on Behavior
as we have a natural tendency to revert to our cultural roots and it will unconsciously influence our decisions
- Systematic and Organized
and every value is contextually related to every other
- Largely Invisible
as the values and beliefs that define the culture are much deeper than the expressions of those values and beliefs.
Furthermore, its effects and behavior and decisions are many and varied. For example, it:
- Influences our Perception
as it determines what we focus on in any given situation, and what we don’t; for example, some people will hang on your every word and ignore everything else about you while others won’t listen to a word you say while instead focussing on all of your non-verbal behaviors
- Defines our Categorization
and helps us place people into groups such as race, culture, country, ethnic background, and social status
- Creates our Stereotypes
that tell us what we should expect, right or wrong, from a person of a certain cultural background
- Specifies our Attributions
and determines our rationale for why people do what we do.
That last point is key, for if we assume that a response means yes when it actually means no, or vice versa, in our international pursuits, we’re just setting ourselves up for failure.