Keys to forging business relationships in other cultures

Relationships are powerful. But building them with people from a different background can be tough and takes time and effort.

Relationships are powerful. In order to work with people from different cultural backgrounds effectively, you need to build sturdy and caring relationships based on trust, understanding and shared goals.

Let’s consider the following: Becoming aware of your own culture is a first step in learning about other people’s culture and building relationships with people from diverse backgrounds.

How do you learn about people’s cultures?

Start by becoming aware of your own. It may seem odd that in order to learn about people in other cultures, we start by becoming more aware of our own culture. But we believe this is true. Why?

If you haven’t had a chance to understand how your culture has affected you first hand, it’s more difficult to understand how it could affect anyone else or why it might be important to them.

If you are comfortable talking about your own culture, then you will become better at listening to others talk about theirs. Or, if you understand how discrimination has affected you, then you may be more aware of how it has affected others.

How do you build relationships with people from other cultures?

There are many ways that people can learn about other people’s cultures and build relationships at the same time.

Here are some steps you can take and then we’ll elaborate on one or two points:

1. Make a conscious decision to establish friendships with people from other cultures.

2. Put yourself in situations where you will meet people of other cultures.

3. Examine your biases about people from other cultures.

4. Ask people questions about their culture, customs and views.

5. Read about other cultures and history.

6. Listen to people tell their stories.

7. Notice the differences in communication styles and values.

8. Don’t assume that the majority’s way is the right way.

9. Risk making mistakes.

10. Learn to be an ally.

Put yourself in situations where you will meet people of other cultures; especially if you haven’t had the experience of being in a minority, take the risk.

One of the first and most important steps is to show up in places where you will meet people of cultures other than your own.

Go to meetings and celebrations of groups whose members you want to get to know.

Or hang out in restaurants and other gathering places that different cultural groups go. You may feel embarrassed or shy at first, but your efforts will pay off.

People of a different cultural background will notice if you take the risk of going to one of their events. If it is difficult for you to attend by yourself, you can bring a friend and support each other in making friends.

Examine your biases

One way to become aware of stereotypes is to talk about them with those who have similar cultures to your own. In such settings, you can talk about the misinformation you acquired without being offensive to people from a particular group.

You can get together with a friend or two and talk about how you acquired stereotypes or fears of other different people.

Ask people questions about their cultures, customs and views

People, for the most part, want to be asked questions about their lives and their cultures. Many of us were told that asking questions was nosy, but if we are thoughtful, asking questions can help you learn about people of different cultures and help build relationships. 

People are usually pleasantly surprised when others show interest in their cultures. If you are sincere and you can listen, people will tell you a lot.

Learn to be an ally

One of the best ways to help you build relationships with people of different cultures is to demonstrate that you are willing to take a stand against discrimination when it occurs. People will be much more motivated to get to know you if they see that you are willing to take risks on their behalf.

We also have to educate ourselves and keep informed so that we understand the issues that each group faces and we become involved in their struggles instead of sitting on the sidelines and watching from a distance.

In summary

Friendship is powerful. It is our connection to each other that gives meaning to our lives. Our caring for each other is often what motivates us to make change. Establishing connections with people from diverse backgrounds can be momentous in making significant changes in our lives and in our communities.

As individuals, and in groups, we can change our communities. We can set up neighborhoods and institutions in which people commit themselves to working to form strong relationships and alliances with people of diverse cultures and backgrounds. 

We can establish networks and coalitions in which people are knowledgeable about each other’s struggles, and are willing to lend a hand.

Together, we can do it.

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