Constructing and recognizing the building of a business identity
Some of the following approaches are useful when constructing an identity for international partners.
Your interaction and frequent use of “safe talk” about topics both parties feel comfortable with is essential throughout your interactions. Do you feel the need to speak about your family and hobbies or is your private and working life kept separate? Safe talk can also mean understanding the preferred use of personal pronouns in your partner’s native language. Are there formal and informal versions as in German or French (Sie versus Du, vous versus tu). If yes, how can you adapt to the difference in formality in a second language? Is it better to use “we” or “I” to indicate you are part of a collective group? This may be important if your partner values a collective as opposed to individualistic society.
In some cases names are changed to ease pronunciation and make others feel more comfortable. Many Chinese use a westernized name for their business partners. Others may change the pronunciation of their name to make it easier for others to speak e.g. Michael (My-kal in English, but Mi|cha|el in German).
When shifting your speech style in the second language, you must also be aware that there could be social consequences. It is common in Western countries to use first names, but will this be acceptable for a senior Japanese manager. Showing deference and respect to senior persons may entail you jumping between the formal and use of their surname to a more informal style with younger members of the Japanese group. Alternatively, to gain respect you might need to consistently present yourself in a much more formal manner. Flexibility between maintaining your identity in your native language and adapting your identity to transit smoothly in a second language with international partners is beneficial.
Switching to English can also cause loss of frame of reference. Imagine what it’s like if you come from a society which is very hierarchical and you need to work with partners living in an egalitarian society – or vice versa. In Thailand developing a business relationship means talking about your role in the hierarchy and expecting decisions to be passed upwards. Ambiguity of speech to prevent loss of face and playful punning or making jokes are normal. Look for the key points at the end of the discussion and not early on. Therefore, it’s a good idea to take a relaxed approach timingwise to doing business and not insist on fast decisions.
Listening closely and watching your partners is paramount because behavior can be misinterpreted. Does your culture allow the expression of strong personal opinions early in a relationship or do you have to build trust first and only later can you express an opinion, but much more mildly?
When your Indonesian partners speak they may construct their business identities according to whether they are supporters of Western values, which cultural groups they belong to and whether they are a family-oriented person as well as a business person. These are significant features of their identity. They may also consider it bad manners to ask personal questions, and as Islam can play a large role they may frame their identity within this context too.
Social media are useful when constructing an international identity for professional reasons. Certain images and comments may be appropriate for some cultures, but not others. How you present yourself can indirectly develop trust and also serve as an ice breaker when meeting partners.
Identities are co-constructed and transformed when communicating in another language. A person’s identity and personality are defined by their social interaction and communicative style. It is desirable to be able to communicate appropriately and adapt to your international partners. This makes constructing your cultural identity, being flexible and aware of how you appear to others is an ongoing process.