Respect in Business: An Essential for Intercultural Communication


Every business, just like every individual, has a place that they cherish and care for.

These places are our hallowed ground, the place we expect others to respect, sometimes referred to as "The Sacred Place."

These words remind us that no matter where we step in somebody else's business, we are on someone else's hallowed ground. We need to treat that place and the people within it with respect. This is a basic and essential principle for effective intercultural communication when doing business.

If we are not sure where to place our steps, we need to find good guides within that business to help us move carefully to where we need to be.

Each of these Sacred Places also has its own cultural protocols. There are spaces that are particularly special.

An example of this is when you are invited to lunch with a business person who suggests you come to a restaurant they like to frequent. You know instinctively that this is a place where they feel comfortable; This is an environment in which they like to work and meet new people.

When you arrive, you observe that you are guided to that person's favorite table. That is their "sacred place." You would get the meeting off to a bad start if you tried to sit somewhere else, for example, for in the mind of the person you are meeting, that place is special and should be respected.

We tend to think of Sacred Places in more traditional terms such as churches, mosques, synagogues etc., or even hospitals or schools.

But they can be anywhere. They can be a café table on a busy street, the corner where two streets intersect, or an an little little village or a whole country. They can be someone's home, the environment where they are most at ease.

When the Sacred Place is obvious, as in a church, you know you are entering it because you have a physical door to open.

However, when that place is the café table on the busy street, there is no door and it is less clear exactly how you are to proceed.

Regardless, you will soon learn that all Sacred Places are set up so that it will be obvious quickly either or not you are welcome. If the person has the same cultural background as yourself, you will sense it. Either the door will be wide open and set off with lovely flowers and even a pleasant guide to take you inside, or it will be barricaded and you must stand in the rain, hammering unmercifully, until finally you hear a shuffle of slow feet and the door opens by a person with a glare on their face.

In business, if the door looks unwelcoming, it is a good strategy to stop hammering and look around for a guide who can help explain a better way to enter. Then, when you cross the threshold, stop and observe what is beyond the door. What can you see? Who is there? What can you learn from what you see?

Should you continue in, or are you getting a feeling that you should not be here?

When you are trying to do business with people in different cultures, it is a mistake to miss the doorway and barge right in. In the best-case scenario, you should have a good guide who shares your intent and will tell you where to place your feet and where to sit and what objects should not be touched.

If you do not have that guide, tread cautiously and always ask permission before entering. Ask outright what is considered respectful behavior. Do not assume that you know these things.


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