top of page
  • Writer's pictureDr. Clinton Lee

Cultural Etiquette: Essential Tips for Global Business Travelers

The modern-day businessperson is equivalent to the gladiators of old. Thrusting and paring with rusty swords is now replaced with options, warrants, takeovers, both friendly and hostile. Strategy and objectives are similar, succeed, build greater success and then create success that is enduring and sustainable. Cultural etiquette then, was nonexistent in the truest sense compared to now.

The business gladiator of today traverses the globe with the speed that would startle the beating heart of those born in 1900. With such progress, comes responsibility, in the form of cultural awareness and respect.

In broad strokes, many of us have either read or heard the saying, “when in Rome do as the Romans.” It was functional then, and partially practical now, not entirely practical only partially. Today's globalised world is driven by cultural differences and another, one must consider the interlinking of generational cultural differences. 

Consider the Chinese baby boomer interacting with a millennial from Canada or perhaps the Chinese millennial interacting with the Canadian baby boomer at a dinner. How would their table manners differ? How would they interact with each other? This is a reality that’s still not fully understood. Consider the combination of 193 countries and 7 different living generations, the possible permutations between these two factors are immense. We are certainly dealing with different generational and country cultures and attitudes. This was evidenced, after the pandemic when different generational approaches to returning back to work at the office were starkly different. 

Add into the recipe, the technological flavors of spontaneity and instant gratification through social media platforms, one has an interesting smorgasbord to munch upon. But there is hope in what appears to be an unsolvable chaos.


Four Steps Business People Must Consider When Travelling


The first is recognise that where you are travelling to in all likelihood, will have a different culture to one you are familiar with. Within your own country, consider how the Northern and Southern parts are totally different in terms of food, approach, and language. Look at Italy, USA, and China these countries clearly demonstrate that case, and the differences are vast and diverse. So, recognising  and understanding diverse cultures is the first step.


The second step is to respect that the other cultures you are stepping into is different. Their language, food and mannerisms may seem harsh, odd, and even barbaric. Its not your home, its theirs, remember you are not part of a modern-day crusader’s quest to challenge other cultures, you are there to engage in business. Do not forget respect is a cornerstone of etiquette.


The third step is to reconcile in your mind, demonstrated by your actions and words that although you recognise the differences, you are also open to reconciliation. There could be a compromise in what you are prepared to eat, how to negotiate, timing, style of discussion that ultimately result in the creation of lasting friendships and enduring business connections. The third step is to find ways and methods to reconcile differences between your culture and the culture you are visiting.


The last step is to realise that all your third step reconciliation strategies and plans must be implemented and thereafter monitored. Realisation is cathartic as you are no longer bound by the limitations of cultural tunnel vision. The visors are removed, and you see with an open, critical viewpoint. Your opinions tend to be more understanding with a less negative and critical mind and approach.

All cultures differ whether through food, language, music, and life itself. There may be differences of how people are treated between themselves, amongst themselves and with third parties. The list is endless but these 4 steps of  being able to “recognise, respect, reconcile and realise” cultural differences are the fundamentals that global travellers should adopt. By doing so, they put themselves at the tip of the spear, sharp, sensitive, and subtle. 

To understand more and how to apply these practical aspects for yourself or your company, contact Dr. Lee for a consultation. The 4-step method will reveal how culturally aware you are, how flexible you are or not, the steps of how you are prepared to reconcile cultural differences and the preparedness to change.


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page