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Communicating across cultures and countries

Dounia Boujddayn, Legal Recruiting Coordinator in Germany and associates from our German offices share their tips on how to do business effectively across cultures.

When you meet a business contact, would you shake hands, kiss them on both cheeks, bow or even rub noses? Each of us have a certain cultural style which may be quite distinct from those of our colleagues and clients of other nationalities.

In order to do business effectively across cultures, keeping an open mind and following these tips is an excellent way to start.

1.    Do some research on the culture of your international contacts

Make an effort to understand the logic behind the culture—the connection between appearances, behaviors and values. For example, you could ask about what an appropriate greeting would be, or whether you should present your business card to a new acquaintance. 

 "Start with the first personal introduction—e.g., if and how to present your business card and treat a business card of a contact. Think about how to start a call: coming straight to the point vs. starting with small talk or even a joke."

Dr. Philipp Kynast, M&A Associate in Düsseldorf
Dr. Philipp Kynast, M&A Associate in Düsseldorf 

 

"Working alongside team members from other cultures is a great enrichment. Being open and curious to their different working styles has allowed me to learn from them and to improve certain aspects of my own style."

Guglielmo Ziani
Guglielmo Ziani, Bank Finance Associate in Frankfurt 

 

2.    There's no such thing as the "right" way

Avoid making instant judgments or assumptions regarding the working styles of team members based on cultural identity. Just because people in another country do things differently doesn't mean that they're wrong. 

"To be able to work with teams all over the world gives me the opportunity to learn different ways of approaching complex legal issues and to think outside of the box. In my experience, having different styles of thinking in a team leads to constructive discussions and better outcomes."

Marie Christine Grueger
Marie Christine Grueger, Commercial Litigation Associate in Hamburg

 

"Don't be offended if a meeting starts a little late or overruns. Germans are known for being very punctual, but people from other cultural backgrounds might not be as vigilant about checking their watches. It doesn't mean they're being disrespectful and meetings can still be fruitful and efficient."

Lisa Reichstein
Lisa Reichstein, M&A Associate in Düsseldorf

 

3.    Analyze how you interact with others from different cultures

Get into the habit of analyzing how you interact with others from different cultures. Is there anything in your own cultural programming that causes you to act or react in certain ways? 

"When you deal with people from other cultures, it is essential to avoid stereotyping. Flexibility and adaptability have been cornerstones to me in establishing good relationships when doing business."

Guglielmo Ziani
Guglielmo Ziani, Bank Finance Associate in Frankfurt 

 

"People from different cultures have unique styles of communication. Some tend to write emotionally, others tend to be very straight-forward and to the point to specific legal questions. Bearing in mind these cultural differences is crucial in order to keep up a constructive and valued dialogue with team members and clients."

Marie Christine Grueger
Marie Christine Grueger, Commercial Litigation Associate in Hamburg

 

4.    Listen carefully 

Listen even more closely than you would when communicating with someone of your own culture. Listen to what's being said, how it is said and how it affects the overall energy around you and the speaker. This kind of close listening is very useful in picking up nuances and differences in behaviors and cultures.

"Cultural differences can be an additional factor, especially in situations involving critical statements or (personal) feedback. Make sure to understand what is being said, how it is being said, and what might have intentionally not have been said. This is important for understanding and to avoid talking at cross-purposes."

Philipp Kynast
Dr. Philipp Kynast, M&A Associate in Düsseldorf 

 

"Getting up from your desk and meeting with them face-to-face (instead of sending an email or calling) can be very helpful. It's so much easier to pick up on the other person's point of view when you're in the same room. A little wander around the office and a shared coffee break can also go a long way!"

Lisa Reichstein
Lisa Reichstein, M&A Associate in Düsseldorf

 

5.    Focus on building relationships and trust

Focus on building relationships and trust. People work well and do business with those they know and like, regardless of cultural background. And don't forget to enjoy it!

"White & Case gives me a great opportunity to learn to focus on building relationships with team members and clients all over the world. For example, the Firm brings together associates from the entire EMEA region once a year in order to learn from and with each other to know what cultural identity means and what it entails."

Marie Christine Grueger
Marie Christine Grueger, Commercial Litigation Associate in Hamburg

 

"Just like members of a sports team, working relationships with colleagues and clients alike are built on and evolve with mutual trust. This may require some additional effort, in particular where it involves people with different cultural backgrounds. However, such effort is well worth it and I highly enjoy the constant interaction with international friends, colleagues and clients from various cultural backgrounds"

Philipp Kynast
Dr. Philipp Kynast, M&A Associate in Düsseldorf 
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