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Dealing With Cultural Issues as a Project Manager

written by: Ronda Bowen • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 5/18/2013

Whether you've been placed on a team including those from a plethora of countries, or your client is from overseas, you need to understand how to handle different customs and rules of etiquette. Read on to find helpful tips for sidestepping sensitive issues of etiquette and culture.

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    Oops! I Didn't Mean it THAT Way!

    Whether you touched the arm of a Chinese teammate during conversation or you stand with your hands on your hips during a presentation to an Indian client, you accidentally committed a faux pas in both cultures. When dealing with a multi-cultural and global marketplace, it is vital that you understand different cultural norms and the standard etiquette for conducting business in the different cultures you will be exposed to. Differences in cultural norms can play a big role in reasons that projects fail.

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    Do Your Background Research

    In order to best prevent cultural mishaps before they occur, do your background research on what is considered appropriate when it comes to business conduct. For example, if you are working for a company based in Japan, you would do well to first bone up on the business etiquette and standards for the conduct of business.

    For example, did you realize that if you are conducting business in Japan that you should wear shoes that are easy to remove - after all, you'll be removing your shoes multiple times. If you need to wear a kimono in a business setting, NEVER wrap it right over left - this signifies mourning over a death. You should also never pour a drink for yourself; always let someone else pour it for you.

    In Mexico, do not send yellow flowers. While they mean friendship in the United States, they signify death in Mexico - and red flowers signify spells cast rather than love. You should also never call someone by a first name unless they have instructed you otherwise.

    A fantastic website reference for those looking to do background research on international business etiquette is Cyborlink's business etiquette site. You can select a country and get background information on the nation, cultural norms, and etiquette in dress, behavior, and conversation. You may also want to look into one of the many books on international etiquette including Global Business Etiquette: A Guide to International Communication and Customs by Jeanette S. Martin and Lilian H. Chaney.

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    Keep an Open Mind

    By keeping an open mind in multi-cultural business matters, you can learn a lot from others. If you are managing a team with members of different backgrounds, do your part to learn about their cultures and practices. By doing so, you'll not only learn what others expect from you, but you will also demonstrate to team members that you are running a team with open communication lines. It is also important to ensure that your team members all respect and validate one another's backgrounds.

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    When There's Trouble in Rome...

    When conflicts arise, it is important to use team conflict resolution methodologies to resolve them as soon as possible. When cultural conflicts arise it is especially important to use effective team conflict resolution techniques and promptly. You need for all sides to be heard in an open arena - and if the reason for conflict is a cultural difference, this needs to be addressed and resolved as smoothly as possible. When working globally, there doesn't have to be conflict, but you should be aware of techniques for managing global projects.

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