Applying the Golden Rule to International Business

We all have grown up knowing the Golden Rule of “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” In fact, many people who are starting in international business use it is a guideline when they are involved in discussions with foreigners or traveling to foreign places. It’s a comfortable way to relate to others in unknown circumstances. I was one of those. And I was wrong!

But before we look into that, let’s first explore how to apply the Golden Rule to your business, especially for international applications.

A Deal

We often hear it said that “Business does not do business, people do,” and that’s the reason that the Golden Rule should be a basis for your business dealings. You are interacting with people, and they have certain expectations in any business transaction. The simplest way to define a business transaction is the word “deal.” And the definition of a “deal” is “it’s good for both parties!” If consideration for both parties is basic to any transaction, then the seller (you) must take into consideration what is good for the other person (the buyer).

We see this evident in the current emphasis on “customer service” and customer relations, and is applicable whether it’s retail or manufacturing. There is no more effective way to implement the concept of satisfying your customer than applying the Golden Rule (the scriptural version!).

The Catch Seems logical to most Americans, especially since it is based on a biblical principle that many in the U.S. understand and agree with. The Golden Rule is effective when applied correctly, and that is the “catch,” especially for international applications. When you consider that part of the premise for the Golden Rule is “…as you would have done unto you” you must realize that what you would want to “have done” is not necessarily the same for the other person. This is especially evident between diverse cultures such as “Western” and “Oriental.”

There are volumes of papers, articles and books written on the differences in cultures, so to assume that someone else feels or thinks the same way you do in many cases will be wrong. Some of these differences can be very easy to identify, such as different kinds of food, styles of eating and types of clothes. Getting the hang of using “chopsticks” is very difficult for most Americans!

Cultural Influences

Many differences in cultures are much more subtle. Understanding how people treat aspects of time, family and religion can be much more meaningful in the success of interpersonal relationships than knowing how to eat with chopsticks. These are the areas where cultural differences can be significant in applying the Golden Rule. Understanding how the other person feels about something that is natural and comfortable for you is basic to developing good relations. Simply doing what you are comfortable with is not always acceptable. Many of the “Ugly American” characteristics are those that obviously do not take into account the feelings of others.

For international purposes, applying the Golden Rule may be more correctly done by simply thinking in terms of changing the “unto you” to “unto the other’s culture.” That might not be considered strictly biblical, but it takes into account the differences that exist between what we think and how we act compared to those that we are working with internationally. That doesn’t seem to me to be contrary to the biblical understanding, just more explanatory.

The next time you are in a situation involving someone from a foreign country, try to consider what their `comfort zone’ is when applying the Golden Rule. You’ll find the results to be much more rewarding.

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