Why do you think it is often difficult to do business across cultures? How can business people avoid cross-cultural mistakes? If a company offends a culture in which it is trying to do business, what should it do? Be certain to use all three major sociological theories— functionalism, conflict theory, and interactionism — in your analysis.

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It is often difficult to do business across cultures because every country has its own unique set of norms as well as differing perspectives on social etiquette. It can be quite a challenge to master every necessary rule for the purposes of covering every eventuality in a variety of business settings.

One of the best ways to avoid cross-cultural blunders is to increase one's cultural intelligence. Four things that contribute to cultural intelligence are strategies to include cross-cultural awareness in daily actions, ways to adapt to changing paradigms in business relationships, ways to develop the essential motivation to become culturally aware, and strategies on amassing knowledge about the role of culture in shaping belief structures. In sociology, the functionalist theory is the perspective that a society functions best when all interconnected parts within that society work in harmony. In order to promote this harmony, cross-cultural understanding must be fostered on a global scale.

Since the functionalist perspective focuses on how each party in a business relationship affects or is affected by others, becoming culturally intelligent is a necessary step in promoting understanding, goodwill, and harmony among diverse societies. Some ways to become culturally intelligent include:

  • Learning a foreign language that corresponds to the culture in which one is currently doing business.
  • Participating in cross-cultural activities that reflect that culture.
  • Researching business etiquette in that culture and learning how to think on one's feet when unexpected developments hamper negotiating efforts.

Another sociological perspective, the conflict theory, proposes that every society is made up of competing, interconnected parts. Essentially, every strata of society is composed of individuals competing for the same resources and material benefits in that society. The conflict perspective originated from Marx's theory that society was made up of the "haves" and the "have-nots." So, from a business perspective, cross-cultural awareness is a necessary tool to foster greater cooperation among business entities. As an example, western businesses must take into consideration that, among non-western peoples, the prevalence of preconceived notions and fears about latent colonialism is very real.

Interactionism is the perspective that people are largely defined or shaped by their social interactions. From a business perspective, even giving unintentional offense can lead to devastating results. Business deals are adversely affected on a yearly basis due to ignorance of how different cultures interpret certain gestures, actions, or words. For example, Pepsi lost its market dominance to Coke in South East Asia because the company changed the color of Pepsi vending machines from dark blue to a light blue, a color of mourning in some communities in that region.

If a company offends a culture in which it is trying to do business, options are limited. Apologies can be made, but specific actions may be needed to overcome emotional barriers in the event of an offense. In many cases (as you'll see in the links below), fixing a cross-cultural blunder (and saving business contracts) is an extremely difficult undertaking.Therefore, it is always advisable to concentrate on avoiding cross-cultural offenses as a matter of habit.

Some links you may like about cultural business blunders and how to avoid them are posted below.

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