Overcoming Culture Shock in Business

This is a guest post by Expat Hub.

When you travel hundreds of miles for a holiday only to bump into an old school chum (or worse, a disliked relative) the expression ‘it’s a small world after all’ might spring to mind. But while the world is certainly becoming easier to traverse, and while television programmes have introduced even those of us who don’t travel to a range of cultural differences, more often than not culture shock still affects those moving abroad.

Simply put, culture shock occurs when people are suddenly confronted with an unfamiliar culture, a set of beliefs/attitudes or a way of life that they aren’t used to, and while this can be a novelty during a holiday or short trip it can become difficult to deal with during prolonged spells abroad.

Although some adapt to culture shock quite quickly others experience distressing feelings of disorientation and isolation, so when your time overseas is for work purposes culture shock can affect you both personally and professionally.

In an increasingly global business environment people working in various sectors often find themselves travelling to overseas locations – whether for advancement or in order to maximise foreign connexions.

If you are one of the thousands of people moving overseas for work here are some top tips for helping you tackle culture shock in a business environment. 

  • One of the difficulties people face when working abroad (and when interacting with foreign businesses/colleagues/associates) is forming appropriate professional relationships. Often this can only be achieved through an awareness and appreciation of any cultural differences, so take the time to learn what your new culture will expect of you.
  • Remember, something that might not be considered even a minor faux pas in your own country (like scrawling a note to yourself on the back of a business card) might be viewed as a serious insult in your new surroundings. Be sure to avoid making those silly mistakes which could be seen by your new boss as a sign of incompetency or a show of disrespect!
  • In order to get the most out of your overseas work placement establish what attributes are valued in your new cultural setting. Presenting yourself in the best manner possible from the beginning will affect the way the company views you and can have a big impact on your success.
  • Understanding how time and deadlines are viewed in your new cultural environment, and what kind of communication style/what level of formality is appreciated, are also key factors to getting ahead. Calling your boss by their first name is the norm in some countries, but in others it’s a big no no!
  • Research really is essential, the more you learn about the country you’re moving to before you go, the less out of place you’ll feel when you arrive.
  • To make your transition to a foreign workplace easier you might also find it useful to make some contacts before the move. Your future employers might be able to help, but if they can’t you can use social media platforms like Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter to connect with people from your new workplace. Knowing you’ll have someone to talk to on your first day might help you feel less like the new kid in school!
  • Not being able to speak the language of your host nation is another big barrier many face. Even if you don’t have the time to become fluent in a new tongue, learning a few key phrases can make a huge difference.
  • And lastly, the easiest way to integrate yourself in a new culture is to embrace it, no matter how strange certain customs or business attitudes may seem, the more you’re exposed to them the more normal they’ll begin to feel!


About the Author:

This guest post was provided by the Expat Hub team, a group of people dedicated to helping take the stress out of expatriation. By explaining the ins and outs of moving overseas the Expat Hub aims to make difficult life transitions that little bit easier!

Connect with Expat Hub on twitter @expathub or Facebook

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  • Elena

    Hi Katya

    Great points! Thanks for sharing. Somehow you know it in the back of your head, but sometimes simply don’t realize them… then oops! you’ve made a mistake!

    This list helps you see it all here, remember it and implement it. Great!


    • Katya Barry

      Yes, Lena, I agree, sometimes we need to hear someone else to say it out loud to in order to realise and make a shift.