East meets West 15 Cultural Differences that Affect Business

Managing a global business calls for understanding the culture of your other business locations. Running a global business is more than just selling goods to the world or sending money abroad, business people in global businesses should also learn the ways of the world.

Each society is unique and exhaustive with its own set of customs and practices. The people follow and embody a culture that is inherent to them. The western and eastern societies differ so much from each other that cultural clashes and misunderstandings are not uncommon. But, with the shrinking world due to technology, learning and recognizing other cultures are no longer exclusive to ambassadors and emissaries.

Although not applicable to all, here are some notable cultural differences between the east and the west that could extend to how each society conduct business. Understanding the norms and values of each will facilitate interactions and strengthen enhance business processes, and strengthen global business connections.

  1. The Boss Concept

Most Asians and other eastern cultures still subscribe to the elevated leadership roles. In contrasts, western societies tend to look at leaders as one of the team.

1 boss


2. Dealing with Problems

While most western societies tackle problems head-on, Asians will try to avoid it as much as possible. If they can do away with bad situations and unpleasant circumstances, they will.

2 dealing with problems


3. Punctuality

Westerners strictly observe punctuality and expect others to be just as reliable. It is considered rude and unprofessional to be late for an appointment or to keep others waiting. Punctuality isn’t as clear cut in the eastern societies. The higher and more powerful the position, the less stringent it is to observe promptness. It is acceptable for the boss to be late, but not for the subordinate.

3 punctuality


4. Networking

Asian families are known for their extensive family ties. This culture extends to their business dealings and connections. Whereas, the western businesses and family units are much smaller.

4 networking


5. Talking about Money

Westerners are straightforward when talking about money, not so much with their eastern counterparts. To the west, money is money, and business deals are mostly based on its intrinsic value. To most eastern societies, relationships have a significant impact on any dealings, including business transactions.

5 talking about money


6. Manner of Speech

Part of the western culture is to call a spade a spade. They speak what they see and people take criticism with a grain of salt. Societies in the eastern hemisphere give much importance on politeness and do not openly discuss unpleasant events, air disagreements, or point out flaws.

6 truth


7. Evolution of Transportation

Automobiles were the preferred mode of transportation of the westerners in the 70s, while most Asians opt for the more economical bicycles. Today in the west, bicycles are valued for its health and environmentally friendly features, while easterners prefer the luxury and comfort of automobiles.

7 transportation


8. Expressing Anger

In most western societies, it is perfectly acceptable to express anger, frustration, and other strong emotions. Asians are more reserved and do not readily show their emotions. And it is inherent to the eastern culture to maintain harmony and avoid conflict at all cost.

8 anger


9. Lifestyle

Western families are smaller compared to their eastern counterparts. In Canada, USA, and most European countries, adult children are expected to live independently. People in the east keep their families close. Multigenerational and multifamily homes are not uncommon.

9 lifestyle


10. Treatment of Newcomers

Westerners subscribe to exclusivity. Newcomers are not always welcome and are often looked upon as a disturbance or a competitor. To the easterners, newcomers are immediately incorporated into the community. But, it is still for the newcomer to fit in.

10 newcomer


11. Self-Portrayal

Westerners are raised to be self-confident, positive, and self-assured. They show it on how they see and speak for themselves. Children in the east are taught humility and diffidence. Self-exaltation is strongly criticized.

11 self portrayal


12. Seniors in the Society

Seniors are honored, respected, and highly-regarded members of most eastern societies. Their opinions and advice are sought-after. In contrast, the elderly in western nations are marginal members of the community. They often live in elderly facilities and no longer have an active and influential role in society.

12 society and seniors


13. Rearing Children

Western families are small exclusive units that include the parents and the children. The responsibility of rearing the children rests squarely on their parents’ shoulders. Asian families are extended, and raising children are shared by the parents, grandparents, relatives, and their immediate neighbors.

13 the child


14. Party Manners

Aligned with their independent and exclusive lifestyle, western parties are broken into several and more intimate smaller groups. Parties in the east are one large and all-inclusive events.

14 party

15. Giving Opinions

In the west, people will express their opinions candidly – short, curt, direct. Their eastern counterparts will also give an honest opinion, but will give it in a long circuitous manner, especially when they’re giving a negative reply. They might sugar coat the fact or include explanations in the hope of softening the blow.

15 opinions

All images in this post are courtesy of Yang Liu. She, was born in China and moved to live in Germany from age 14. She was raised with eastern traditions, but was exposed to the western ways. This gave the artist a firsthand experience of cultural clashes and differences.

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