It became very important for me to understand culture from a business perspective. Law firms are well known, perhaps unfairly, for being rather change resistant; but having a culturally diverse team helps us embrace innovation and change in a positive way, while staying competitive in Asia thanks to the local connections, native language skills and cultural insight the team brings.
On the flip side, it can also be a barrier to interpersonal communication. Even the choice of medium used to communicate may have cultural overtones. Some cultures expect communications to be explicit and specific, while some look for meaning and understanding in what is not said. The small things can make a real difference, and cultural insensitivity and ignorance can really damage your brand. The damage may be internal, by alienating and distressing employees, or offending clients.
And that’s why cultural awareness is essential for businesses in this age of globalisation. It isn’t just about being sensitive to different cultural values, but more about having a global mindset, being interested in diversity across cultures and markets, and looking to see the common patterns and opportunities. Being culturally aware at work can make an overseas assignment, an international business meeting or cross-cultural negotiation a successful one. It’s probably one of the most central skills to have if you’re going to have a career in Asia.