February 14, 2012

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International Networking Requires Cultural Understanding, Patience

Dianne Lewis

February 14, 2012

Networking with people from around the world takes homework and patience, according to experts at an international networking event Friday afternoon. The seminar was held by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED).

“It’s important that we know how to deal with people from other cultures and not be offensive,” said Franz Kolb, regional director of the GOED International Trade and Diplomacy Office.

Kolb and others gave tips on how to work with people from across the globe. By doing a little research before going somewhere, Kolb said people could save themselves embarrassment and forge strong friendships and partnerships.

Barbara Bagnasacco, partner at Ballard Spahr, said doing work internationally is all about friendships. Personal relationships are much more important in international trade than domestic trade. Clients need to know they are cared about as a person before they want to do business, she said.

“We build our international network not to get a business deal. Use the business deal to build the international network,” Bagnasacco said.

Cultural awareness is critical to networking. For example, assuming everyone in Latin and South America speak Spanish, or assuming that Spanish speakers all speak the same Spanish, is a mistake, said Miguel Rovira, regional director of the GOED International Trade and Diplomacy Office.

Tarek Mango, Mango Enterprises managing director, said in the highly religious Middle East, people must have basic knowledge of Islam and use that knowledge to navigate business. He said it’s necessary to know what times Muslims pray so a meeting is not scheduled to overlap. Punctuality is also not greatly valued and some Middle Eastern clients will be late to test the patience of U.S. visitors and judge the reaction.

In Africa, it’s difficult to generalize about culture, language and customs, because the continent’s history of colonialism has made Africa a “modge podge of cultures,” said Sabina Zunguze, A Gift to Africa president. Many African people also do not like to feel like American business people are there only to prescribe a solution.

Having sensitivity to cultural issues and knowing local customs will go a long way to paving the way for long-lasting friendships abroad.

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