On dealing with cultural differences


Welcome back to our informative blog! Today we want to look at cultural types. Wherever people from different cultures meet, different behavioral patterns come together. This can also be the case in a sales meeting, for example. For many, it can be a big challenge to choose the right behavioral style depending on the business partner, but it can also give the most adaptable salesperson the chance to shine with their skills and win the deal. It is not enough to know what qualities the other person has, but also how best to deal with them. Of course, you cannot generalize about all people in a country and there are many exceptions, but knowing what qualities are typical of the people in the culture you are talking to can help you go into the meeting better prepared.

Every country and community are intimately connected through a complicated web of individual values, norms, and specific history, so you need to be well informed about a culture to understand it. However, this is precisely where the danger lies, because when dealing with people we have to expect that we will not understand everything. That’s why it’s very important not to get stuck in this cultural pattern, but to always be open to the person and, above all, to think. However, if you master this and manage to speak to a person in a way that is sensitive to their own unique culture, you can not only evoke the intended emotional response through communication but also signal that you can trust the brand you work for and that they understand the culture.


The different types of culture

This blog post discusses the book “When Cultures Collide: Leading Across Cultures.” Based on the Lewis Model, there are three basic culture types; the linear-active cultures, the reactive cultures, and the multi-active cultures, as well as mixed variants of these types. Emphasizing on the fact that it is merely impossible to clearly classify countries into these three categories and the mixed variants. However, it is advisable to understand that one should not assume all people have the same temperament, orientation, or even similar body language. The knowledge from these 3 basic culture types comes from Richard Lewis, who has traveled to over 135 different countries and worked in more than 20 of them.

According to the Lewis Model, Linear-active cultures are characterized by being task- and result-oriented, working in an organized way, valuing direct discussions, and working on one thing at a time. Make sure the meetings are as efficient and structured as possible and keep the information content very high. You should also be willing to compromise to close the deal. Examples of linear-active cultures are countries like Germany, Switzerland, or the Nordic countries.

Reactive cultures, such as Japan and China, on the other hand listen carefully, practice friendliness and respectfulness, and they also have subtle body language. The theory advises that during a meeting, it is important to give the other person time to think about what has been said and not to place them under pressure of any kind. A high level of product knowledge is often assumed, so this should not be neglected when preparing for the sales meeting

If the interlocutor comes from a multi-active culture, they can often be talkative and impulsive. Care should be taken not to lose the structure of the conversation and leave out points, as a constant flow of speech is more welcomed than pauses in conversation. Interruptions by the interlocutor may occur and should be handled professionally without losing face. The conversation may seem more emotional or unstructured from time to time, but the focus should still be on selling the product.


How to deal with cultural types

To avoid putting your foot in your mouth, it is advisable to find out about the habits and characteristics of the prospect. Adopting stereotypes is dangerous and they are quite often far from the truth, so this can be quite misleading in a meeting. You should also be aware of the taboos of the other person’s culture. You should definitely not think that all people are like you. Even people of the same culture are very different.

Culture and its influence on the communities from which it emerged is a beautiful, multi-layered entity that gives people strength, identity, and meaning, and these cultures explore the reasons why we value gaining real insight into the different cultures that help brands address them.


Those who ask, lead

This wisdom always leads us back to one core idea in our many blogs. We can’t study every culture and thus understand it, as just mentioned, there are also great differences in a culture that are difficult to prepare for. Here, once again, theory and practice split. In the real world, in practice, you can achieve a lot if you give your counterpart the feeling that you understand him. But how do you really understand your counterpart? The answer is: probably never. But there is one approach that probably brings us closest to the solution: asking. By asking questions, such as the SPIN Questions or other questioning methods, we get deeper insights into the thinking of other people and can thus understand them a little better. One topic that everyone likes (if not loves) to talk about is themselves. So you can start a very relaxed and positive conversation by asking them questions about themselves. These are not superficial questions like hobbies or holidays, but deep questions that are about him personally and give you a clue about the other person’s mindset, values, norms, and experience.


Negotiation types require different approaches

This brings us directly to the different types of negotiation that can exist in a culture. Every seller and buyer has their own way of interacting with others and it is often difficult to find the right answer. It depends on what you focus on, facts or people, and whether you are proactive or reactive (Cross-cultural Competence, Lewis Model), that your character is more likely to be high compliance, dominant, steady, or influential. As within the different types of culture, there are different ways of dealing with the different types of negotiation. To prepare well for a meeting, it is beneficial to find out what such ways are and to apply them directly in the first meeting, adapting them if necessary, with the experiences from the meeting.

There are not only different types of cultures and many different approaches to dealing with them but also types of negotiators that should be considered.  For many, this will go without saying but is often forgotten. However, it is necessary to take them into account for a successful sales pitch and eventual contract. A challenge for one salesperson becomes a great opportunity for another.

Our personal opinion about personality models, cultural models, or general models is ambivalent. On the one hand, they offer a good approach for us to understand other people/cultures. On the other hand, they are also a danger, as they promote our pigeonholing. So now when we are informed about some of these cultures, we tend (because we think we understand them) to easily label them and go into an attitude where we think we know everything about the other person. If you have this feeling, you will soon realize that this is not true. Because understanding people is not easy and cannot be learned with a few models. So we give you the advice to always question your own thinking patterns and to always think critically because only then will you manage to constantly improve.


Authors: Nguyet Huynh, Heinrich Herwig, Lee Sauer (exchange students of Turku UAS)