Building Relationships Across Cultures Using Virtual Communication

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Today many of the people with whom we virtually communicate we will never meet. This does not mean we should not spend time getting to know them. Business is based on people. People are the engine behind the work, pushing it to delivery. In the United States, we focus on completing a venture or task rather than developing a business relationship with a person. This is not the case in other countries. American companies most often outsource to Brazil, Russia, India, and China (BRIC countries), and, in these countries, they take the time to develop a business relationship. This is one of the reasons why Americans have a difficult time selling to the BRIC. They assume the same Americanized selection process is used. Instead, the BRIC will choose the relationship and select a firm with whom they want to engage based on who is representing their interests. In the U.S., we choose the best product to purchase inside organizations. In the BRIC, the product’s stature is often secondary to the relationship with those representing it.

While you may not be selling “widgets,” the same concept applies. When working with firms to redirect failing outsource projects, they are surprised to hear that developing a relationship with their outsourcer should a priority. These firms often relied on their contract, which contains multiple provisions if failure occurs. While it is important to have these binding contracts in place, when a product fails to arrive on time, market opportunity is lost. Even if the firm has fines in place for late delivery, a fine cannot replace the loss of market windows.

Realize that relationships have dollar value and relationships are what assist delivery. Then the time spent on cultivating relationships becomes acceptable. America is a culture where time is money, and money is wasted. It is not a waste of time to spend a few minutes on each call focusing on some personal conversation. Ask how people are doing. Inquire about events you heard about in the news. Remember local holidays. As relationships develop, virtually team members become more committed to the project because they are more committed to you.

Often the constraints of a one-hour time window allowed for meetings stops personal conversations in order to complete the meeting on time. Designate the first five minutes of each call to focus on personal conversations. Put it on the agenda so everyone knows this is acceptable. Share something personal; tell about the local area, or other item of interest. Sharing puts a personal side on business and engages people. It also breaks down cultural barriers as people start to understand what is really happening on the other side of the phone. To learn more about communicating effectively with BRIC countries, visit

Global Strategist and Management Consultant Brandi Moore is the founder of IndiaThink, a firm that helps clients achieve revenue-generating results inside international relationships. A frequent speaker, she is a columnist at Outsource magazine, Adjunct Professor at Baruch College and creator of The Global ManagerTM Program, a seminar that builds global competencies. She can be reached at

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