Boss Lady

Networking at international events

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Industry events that bring together delegations from all over the globe can feel a bit like the annual University Games with laptops and a bar-tab instead of, well, jerseys and a bar-tab. There is an undeniable frisson of excitement combined with the pressure to perform and make sustainable connections that will justify to your management the associated air travel and exorbitant hotel room-service charges. and then you discover that networking at international events involves a new set of rules.

Donna Stone wrote a fantastic set of networking tips that will work for you even as a shy person. I would like to build on her advice by offering some recommendations from my own observations in the international environment. Feel free to add to this with comments about your own experiences below!

Myriad cultures at play can present a potential minefield for both the introvert and the extrovert. The widely accepted process of approach, small-talk, find common ground, exchange cards, agree to touch-base, follow-up after two weeks, move jointly forward can hit hidden snags even before the wine starts flowing at small-talk to mercifully give us all a helping hand. You don’t have to be a cultural expert or multi-lingual consultant to come out of it alive, but I recommend the following three A’s to stay afloat and to increase your chances of making meaningful interactions.

 

  • Anticipate. Read up on international current affairs before your event

In the delicate words of Mr Collins at his first dinner with the Bennets in Austen’s Pride & Prejudice “They [pleasing attentions] arise chiefly from what is passing of the time. And though I do sometimes amuse myself with arranging such little elegant compliments, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible.”

For those familiar with Mr Collins, it seems perhaps strange to say that he was onto something here. Allow me to translate. Do some groundwork and be prepared to discuss some current prominent topics with your international compatriots in order to make connections on their level, whether it be business- or personal-related. For example, politics could be considered particularly important to the French; holiday planning and destinations for Germans; family for the Indians.

Most travel with smart phones and tablets that serve 24/7 international breaking stories; we have news channels on Facebook and twitter feeds; and free newspapers in aeroplanes and hotels. There is no excuse to not take fifteen minutes before breakfast to note down some key points. If you are like me and need to put pen to paper to ensure the information is processed, jot it down on a folded piece of paper or on the first page of your conference notes. It goes without saying that they should also be interesting to you – stay authentic to avoid at all costs the delivery of your findings with a ‘studied air’.

 

  • Attitude. Appreciate the differences

Prime your attitude before entering to be prepared not to take things too personally. The cultural minefield comes with moments of confusion and awkwardness that even an outgoing, well-spoken Australian who has anticipated key international news events might find unnerving. Do not let a snag in the communication send you running from this opportunity to network.

For more insight into the impact of cultural differences on business interactions, I invite you to refer to the research of Erin Meyer (Affiliate Professor Organisational Behaviour, INSEAD) into cross-cultural management. She clarifies two interesting notions: high-context vs low-context societies and cultural relativity.  The first gives us a framework with which to interpret the actions of others. For example, much goes unspoken in a high-context society (France, Japan, Spain) compared to those of lower-context culture (Australia, Dutch, USA, German). In the latter, you are more likely to face a direct ‘what you see is what you get’ approach. A Dutch person might be frustrated with the more rigorous seemingly long-winded discussions held with a French business partner, but as the French proverb says “De la discussion jaillit la lumière”, good ideas emerge from discussion.

The second notion of cultural relativity sensitizes us to the effect each individual’s culture has on the interpretation of a situation. Professor Meyer paints an intriguing scale of comprehension, with a project team of Indians, French and British associates. To the Indians, the French seemed rigid, time-line focused and too methodological. However, to the English from their relative cultural mind-set, the French were chaotic and disorganized.

If you can appreciate that these differences exist and consciously adjust your attitude at the door, you will be more open to the networking interactions that will follow.

 

  • Action. Ask people about themselves

People love talking about their own experiences, products, responsibilities; travel…the list goes on!

It is a simple concept that transcends cultures, but show an authentic interest in others and you will create more meaningful connections. Networking at international events can change your career and your business, so don’t avoid them!

About Claudia Schulz

Claudia Schulz is an Engineer who left Australia’s shores in 2008 to pursue post-graduate studies in International Management in Germany. Currently, Claudia is in Paris working in Key Account Management for a global engineering solutions provider.She is passionate about raising awareness of gender-roles in the international workplace, connecting people, language, literature, and croissants.Has been described as sassy on more than one occasion (thank you, high-school debating).Life goals (in no particular order): attend a TED Conference, travel through Turkey, obtain a PhD, buy an oven (not an easy feat for a Parisian-sized apartment).

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