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  • There are three types of people in the world, those who don't know what's happening, those who wonder what's happening and those on the streets that make things happen.

Doing Business Abroad: Cultural Differentiator

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on March 7, 2013

Here is an interesting piece from “Breakout Nations: In Pursuit of the Next Economic Miracles” by Ruchir Sharma. It highlights a very subtle yet significant difference between two types of nations/societies, the “high context” and the “low context”. An important lesson for corporates looking to expand business across the globe.

Both India and Brazil are “high context” societies, a term popularized by the anthropologist Edward Hall to describe cultures in which people are colorful, noisy, quick to make promises that cannot always be relied on, and a bit casual about meeting times and deadlines. These societies tend to be family oriented, with tight relationships even beyond the immediate family, based on close ties built over long periods of time. In an environment this familiar, there is a lot that goes unsaid- or is said very briefly-because values are deeply shared and much is implicitly understood from context. The spoken word is often flowery and vague; apologies are long and formal. “Low context,’ in contrast, describes societies like the United States and Germany in which people are individual oriented, care about privacy, and are more likely to stick to timelines and their word. People tend to be on the move, to have many brief relationships, and thus rely on simple, open communications and codified rules to guide behavior.

Business is not just about numbers.

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4 Responses to “Doing Business Abroad: Cultural Differentiator”

  1. WOW!! This is fascinating. I never really thought about those differences but now that you’ve written it so succinctly, it’s plain to see. I think this may be why Americans get frustrated when trying to conduct business outside of the states. My husband is a film maker and I know that he was unaccustomed to the different work ethic in Italy and France. Often he would hear – “That is not possible.” haha! In the states people hustle and would never dream of saying, “No.” haha!

    • Raunak said

      Hi Lisa! Its not limited to the Americans…there are some “low context” Indians like myself who get utterly frustrated with our own way of working!

  2. themightyf said

    Raunak, I take it you are not “on Fiji time” in the way you work? A nice way to say “4 hours late” haha.

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