Why Having An International Mindset In Business Is Powerful

Our world is getting smaller, year-by-year. While our population is growing, we are more integrated as a people. Cultures and religions ever intertwined through globalisation.

I was blessed with having an international upbringing in multi-cultural Singapore and, although I have now lived in England most of my adult life, I feel I have never shaken off my international mindset in life. In fact, as my immediate and extended family are either fully or partly Chinese, it comes naturally. It has brought amazing benefits and I want to share with you how and why. You don’t have to be part of an international family to do so.

London is now just as multi-cultural. Perhaps it’s just as international where you live and work. Whether it is or not, I urge you and the people you work with to have an international outlook. If you already feel you have, great, however, be mindful of it and use it to your advantage.

What do I mean when I encourage such an outlook in business, even if your business is a local one?

If you travel nationally or internationally on business, take time to research the region’s or country’s culture and etiquette. Discover and learn when you visit. If you can, do your best to stay for a while on after your meeting or conference. You may never visit that part of the world again.

If you are a national or local business, take a few moments to think about how many different people you do business with. Your staff, your customers, your partners, your suppliers. You may well be surprised how many different cultures they belong to.

Prioritise the order of those whom you currently engage with the most and start researching and getting an understanding of their culture, even if if a just basic view.

For example: Do they celebrate a special holiday? Is their language unique or is it aligned to another nation’s? What type of culinary tastes and food do they like? What’s acceptable etiquette in business and what isn’t?

To illustrate my points, here are some commercials by HSBC actively being promoted years ago. They used the tagline, ‘HSBC, the world’s local bank.’

When you meet and speak with those who may be from a different culture to you, ask them questions about it with a genuine learning mindset. Chances are, by doing some research beforehand, you will want to learn more anyway. It also at least shows you took the time to learn about it initially. Perhaps you’ve already been to or are planning to visit their country of origin? Maybe you already know someone there?

Why do this?

You’ll be taking a genuine interest about their background and will be exuding a type of engagement which shows you care, by taking the time to know them more.

It also demonstrates that you are not insular and have an international mindset; that you are a more open-minded and engaging person than the next person.

You see, people like to be valued, just like I’m sure you do. I do, that’s for sure.

Most of your competitors and peers are probably too busy to do this. There is so much political correctness going on these days, some are in fact afraid to do so. Of course, such engagement should be genuine, timely, (not out of the blue, but relevant), and of course carried with sensitivity and empathy.

This is not a discussion about religion. It’s about people’s culture. Although both may be linked, there is a huge difference between the two topics.

That said, by researching cultures, you could find yourself being more aware that you shouldn’t be offering to take someone out for lunch at a specific time of year. They may be fasting for religious reasons. See it as an opportunity to invite them when the time is right by diarising.

This approach will make you more internationally aware about people’s priorities and interests in general. Of course, it’s not practical to research every culture on the planet which is why I suggested you can prioritise.

Travel is a huge passion of mine and I have ensured my children, although born in the UK, understand the culture of some of their ancestors. For example, when they were younger, we requested special permission from their schools to travel to the Far East during Chinese New Year. We wanted them to live and feel the experience at local street level, not just in Chinatown. I have so far ensured they have also experienced what I have: To travel the world over. I understand just because this is important to me, it may not be important to you. Everyone has different passions after all. I have also mentioned national travel as regions have different ways too. Our world is incredibly tribal!

If you happen to be going abroad on vacation this year, you’re not going to learn much about culture on a beach resort. So, if you’re on a beach holiday, take time out and mingle with the locals and engage with them. Your conversations back home will be more interesting when you share your adventures!

People buy people. People are inclined to have a greater fondness of those who have taken an effort to learn more about them.


John Coupland
John Coupland
JOHN is an independent marketing consultant and is the bestselling author of ACCELerate™ Your Social Media. With extensive experience in e-business and ICT, he helps ambitious entrepreneurs, business owners, and corporates with their business growth using his unique and proven ACCELerate™ methodology. John speaks at leading business events, has written a number of articles for major publications worldwide, and is a member of The Brain Trust®, Small Business Advocate Show®, America. Amongst a number of awards, John played an instrumental role in helping a major UK department store chain achieve the Queen's Awards for Enterprise - Innovation. Learn more at ACCELerate™ Your Business

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  1. John, a timely article with excellent points. Learning about another culture and respecting their traditions and values can enrich a person and broaden their perspectives of the world and their life.

    • Yes, it’s certainly about respecting the traditions and values of others also Melinda. Thank you for commenting.

  2. Wonderful message you’ve delivered here John! Even if we haven’t had the opportunity to visit the countries, the fact that we’ve taken the time to learn about other’s cultures invites cohesiveness. Relationships are powerful in the world of business and cultural intelligence is paramount in our contemporary world~

    • Indeed Jennifer. Taking the time to learn about other’s cultures certainly invites cohesiveness. Thanks for commenting.

  3. All great points. All I can add is not to acclimate to the culture — inadvertently picking up the accent or wearing what’s in fashion. These are often seen as poor taste. Also, there is a common dialog that people have. If you’re in the marketing place and they expect you to negotiate, you negotiate. In other places you will be advised on what to eat and how to eat it — so you take the advice.

    And to stay safe, be aware there can be two faces to a country. One for you, and one for its citizens. Finding yourself outside of where you should be can get you fined, jailed, or even kidnapped. Stay where you’re safe. Don’t pretend you’re a native. And don’t trust anyone with your luggage. This means travel light.

    • Agreed Chris. Inadvertently picking up the accent or wearing what’s in fashion wouldn’t be advisable. Thanks for your tips too.

  4. OF course, the vast majority of people do not have a job that entails international travel, nor do they have the private funds to support it. That is not said to discount your suggestion though.

    Back in the eighties, I sold one of my companies to a Chinese company. It was pre-google, pre-internet, so I went to the library and read every book they had on Chinese business culture and negotiating techniques. The knowledge not only helped bring the deal to fruition but did so much to my financial advantage. Without the need though I wouldn’t have done that research. Most people need a reason to investigate other cultures beyond just general curiosity and information.

    There is also a strong isolation mentality emerging in the US. It is fueled by millions of people crossing our borders illegally and the rise of Islamic terrorist activity.

    • Thank you for commenting Ken and also sharing how researching Chinese business culture helped.