Succeed in the UK with Cultural Know-How

In Britain people are far less hierarchical than in Turkey and often have a greater level of responsibility and autonomy than you might expect.  British people won’t share much of their private lives with you, so how do you get to know them? Culturel Chemistry gives tips about these.

Patti McCarthy

If you plan to succeed in the competitive UK market, it’s important to recognise from the start that there will be a number of cultural differences which you need to understand.  Turkey is arguably very Westernised, and you would be forgiven for thinking that doing business in the UK is not that different to business in Turkey.  There are, however, a number of areas where becoming more ‘culturally intelligent’ can help you to grow your business.

Before going deeper, let’s clarify what cultural intelligence IS.  I see it as a combination of emotional intelligence and cultural knowledge and there is no doubt that being more CQ gives you a real advantage when it comes to working with people from other cultures, whether you are wanting to communicate, to negotiate, to buy or sell, lead or follow.

For a start, CQ boosts communication. As soon as you start thinking about it, you’ll start noticing differences in the way that British and Turkish people communicate, including differences in the speed of speaking, the emotion demonstrated, the amount of eye contact and the use of body language. And of course, it’s not just how they say it, it’s what they say too.  British people tend to use a lot of humour and irony and to understate things – all things that are quite challenging, especially when working in a second language.  They are comfortable with risk and language is often non-specific, leaving you wondering “are they serious or not?”.

And how do you build a relationship with someone? It’s worth remembering too that people develop business relationships in different ways.  In ‘Anglo’ countries, good relationships follow on from the delivery of good service.  In many Arab and Asian countries, however, a good relationship has to be established before you can be trusted with any of their business. And business is not always done around the meeting table, but often around the dining table, where knowledge of dining etiquette can make or break your relationship.  In Turkey lots of business is done over a lunch or dinner table, but in Britain this is far less common. 

How do you get to know them?

So how do you get to know someone? In Britain people are far less hierarchical than in Turkey and often have a greater level of responsibility and autonomy than you might expect.  British people won’t share much of their private lives with you, so how do you get to know them? Is it appropriate to ask them about their family and tell them about yours? Everyone knows that people like to do business with people they LIKE and whom they feel comfortable with, so knowing how to make a good first impression and to build rapport will get you off on the right foot.  It may be met with embarrassed laughter when you offer a hug and your client offers their hand, but it won’t make you or them feel good.

Higher CQ also helps boost product innovation, which is great news if you are wanting to sell into a different market. Your big sellers in Turkey may not prove at all popular in the UK, but many big-selling brands are adapted for local markets. Nestle’s Kit Kat was only ever a layered wafer biscuit covered in milk chocolate until someone thought to appeal to the Japanese people’s liking for unusual flavours.  Many years later, there are over 200 varieties of Kit Kat on sale in Japan, in flavours as diverse as Blueberry, Bubblegum and Banana. Seagram’s Gin now makes a blend flavoured with Ginsen

g for the very lucrative Chinese market and Ernst & Young have a range of audit and consulting services to help clients manage their risk in countries where potential exposure to corruption and fraud is high.

British people tend to use a lot of humour and irony and to understate things – all things that are quite challenging, especially when working in a second language.  They are comfortable with risk and language is often non-specific, leaving you wondering “are they serious or not?”.

As well as product development, better CQ also boosts problem solving and specifically, finding a solution which is culturally appropriate.  Having a diverse perspective on things enables you to offer a greater array of solutions to a wider audience.  As suppliers we often come up with a solution that would work for us, but what if your clients’ world is different to yours? I tell a story in my book, Cultural Chemistry, of a culturally inappropriate solution, devised by an American PR guru who thought he could get some great publicity for his client by giving free ice-cream to the children’s hospital.  The trouble was, while in America that might have been a nice good-news story, in China it’s considered very unhealthy to give cold food to sick children, so his client would not have got the kind of publicity he wanted at all.

Finally, you may be wanting to hire some staff in the UK – how do you motivate them to ‘go the extra mile’ for you?

There is a Persian proverb that states “If you are leading and nobody is following, you are just taking a walk” and this is exactly what is happening in offices all over the world. Cultural differences mean different expectations of how a boss behaves, how employees should be motivated and rewarded, how many hours must be spent at the office every day and even who pays for the cakes when it’s YOUR birthday! Going about things the ’wrong way’ will only be tolerated for so long, before tempers fray.  Can you imagine turning up to work every day and recognising that your ‘local hires’ weren’t delivering the results you hoped for and didn’t seem particularly motivated by your personal management style either – even though it worked perfectly for you in Turkey?

As you can see, there are many ways in which cultural differences can cause your UK sales agenda to go off the rails, but equally many ways in which developing your cultural intelligence and taking some time to learn about British culture will help to fast track your success here. It’s not unlike starting to play a new sport; you may already be fit and have great ball skills, but if you try to play football using the rules of tennis, you won’t be in the game for very long.

Patti McCarthy is an inter-cultural coach and trainer, who helps businesses to prosper in new markets.  She has run her own consultancy since 2008 and is the author of Cultural Chemistry – Simple Strategies for Bridging Cultural Gaps. She is an associate of London Bridge Project, a sales consultancy currently working with a number of Turkish clients to expand their business in the UK.

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