In the course of regular business, I’ve travelled to over 65 countries globally and have closed deals in over 80 countries around the globe. Unfortunately for me, most times I don’t get to go out and see the sights in many of the places that I visit but I always get a chance to meet interesting people and learn about different cultures through these people. One of the things that you hear no matter where you go is “This place is different than where you come from”. While that is undoubtedly true, most places have so many things in common that people don’t realize.
One of the places that I have been to many times is Nigeria. I’ve been to Nigeria over a dozen times and know the city of Lagos well enough to tell my drivers which route I prefer to take and to know when not to be on the road and where not to go. The Nigerian people are quite friendly and very entrepreneurial in nature. People want to have a better life and I will often be approached on the streets with requests and/or offers to purchase something because I do stand out from the majority. I enjoy speaking with people and while I often don’t buy what they want to sell, it is always appreciated that I am polite and not dismissive. It is also always appreciated in meetings to show a level of understanding of the culture.
Nigerians, as many parts of Africa do, have a unique way of shaking hands. In formal business meetings, the traditional firm handshake is still a given, but if you watch Nigerian friends and acquaintances meet each other in every day life the handshake is more informal with a quite light grasp, a sliding of the hands away from each other and occasionally a snap of the fingers at the end when the fingers leave touch. There are infinite varieties of this shake, but in general, there is a common theme.
In business meetings, I will often do a formal hand shake at the beginning, however I will work into the conversation that I know the “Secret Nigerian Handshake”. Most people are very happy to let me show them what I know and it ends up being a big ice breaker and conversation starter. It also always puts a big smile on the face of the person that I am showing it to. It lets people know that although there is no such thing as a secret handshake, I do know enough about the culture to show that perhaps I understand what the market needs and perhaps my solutions merit further pondering. This is only one example of a way in which the understanding of the culture of the people that one wants to do business with will come to your advantage. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a great gesture as my little example shows above. Doing research on typical meeting types, understanding difficulties in the market with regards to transportation, signs of respect, etc will always come in handy when meeting in foreign markets, especially for the first time.
Helping to establish trust in the person you are doing business with is very helpful in any business. Using the understanding of cultural differences to benefit your personal brand is an effective tool when doing business in foreign lands. Just ask my Nigerian friends.
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