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Coping with culture shock


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• Interactive: Have you been caught out by cultural differences? Tell us your stories and tips 

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- From business cards to handshakes and working hours -- working in a different country is littered with hidden traps. One faux pas could scupper the deal -- and your credibility.

Living in a new culture gives you time to observe, learn and adapt. The business traveller does not have that luxury.

Japanese woman Hisako Imura spent ten years in New York after graduating in her hometown of Tokyo.

"For me as a Japanese woman, a foreign country gave me a much better opportunity than maybe I would have had in Japan. Now it's changing but it's still a very much male-dominated society," Imura said.

She moved to Sydney this year, but found the change hard.

"I noticed the Japanese way of doing business, also the relationship with other people, was quite different from in New York or in Sydney.

"In Japan as a business person your life revolves around your business. Your colleagues are like part of your family.

"In Australia they maybe work shorter hours, but work very hard, then they leave the office and spend as much time with their family as possible."

Chris Brewster, a professor of human resources at London's South Bank University, says Imura has begun to understand some of the cultural differences between Japan and Australia.

"These differences are much more than the handing out of business cards. These are about deep-seated cultural values, ideas of what's good and bad, right and wrong, and these spill over into business.

"It's the way that you have to deal with those when you're in business that creates the problem because often you have very little time to learn."

One option when entering a different culture is to explain that it is a new experience for you, Brewster advises.

"You can say to people: 'I respect your culture, but I don't understand it. I'm going to make mistakes, it's bound to happen but I'm really trying to do the best I can.'"

He also advises being modest when it comes to selling a product.

"There's a lot of process involved in reaching deals, in coming to agreement. And if people don't understand that, however good their product or their service is, they're not going to be successful in the deal. They've got to be modest, they've got to realise that it's not just about their product, it's also about the process."

From her own experience, Imura suggests learning about the culture before you visit, and talk to friends and colleagues who have been where you are going.

"Then when you arrive you should really abandon your preconception about other people. You just open up yourself first. And don't be afraid of rejection."



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