Conducting Cross-cultural Business

As we pass the midpoint of the semester, I feel like the time has flown by since we’ve started the project! We’ve met some amazing people that work at our client’s organization, we’ve tried some new things, we’ve brainstormed some great ideas, and you’ll hear all about that later in this post. 

Moving forward with this project, I am ready to be aware of the reality of cultural differences between me and the clients.  As a reminder, our client, CEOLI, is an organization based in Cochabamba, Bolivia.  Along with the obvious language difference, there are various aspects of business relationships, communication, and meetings that are different across our two cultures. 

In one of our sessions, our site liaison, Jean Carla, taught us about Bolivian culture.  Something that I learned that I was really excited about was that most people in Cochabamba have a deep appreciation for art, and they value folkloric dance and traditional dishes.  She taught us about Pachamama, which is Mother Earth, and she explained to us that Bolivians have a deep respect and appreciation for Pachamama. I’m interested to learn even more about these aspects of Bolivian culture.  I have taken over six years of Spanish, and I love the opportunity to learn about other cultures.  There were various times where I learned about Bolivian culture when studying Spanish in school, but the first hand education and accounts from our clients and liaison are extra meaningful to me. I love the pride I can see when our connections teach us about their culture, because I know I feel the same way when I have the opportunity to share aspects of my experiences with others.  It is a beautiful thing to let someone in to your world, and I feel very thankful when our clients share this piece of their life with us. 

As we conduct meetings with our client, our behaviors are different than they would be if we were working with a group of American clients.  First off, only some of our team is able to converse in Spanish and only a handful of our clients are able to converse in English.  This can prove to be difficult at times: it can make for lengthier meetings and sometimes it is necessary to clarify points further to ensure that they do not get lost in translation. I appreciate the time and attention that our client liaison as well as one of our team members, Oscar, take when they translate in order to make sure we are all on the same page.  When conducting business with American clients, it would be less typical for us to make small talk.  But, we learned in a presentation led by our ICP advisors that Bolivia is a country where business relationships are high context, and this means that it is necessary to establish a deeper connection when conducting business.  My team and I aim to do this through telling personal stories, and asking our clients about their personal experiences.  Our team member Lauren recently told our clients a story about her mom’s coworker’s connection to Cochabamba, and we could see that hearing this story made our client feel excited.  Although I get really timid about speaking in Spanish, I push myself to do it during our meetings at points because I think that our clients appreciate the effort. 

I am learning that global business is all about being an intentional listener.  I aim to make sure I am understanding exactly what my client is asking for, in order to make sure I completely carry out their requests.  It is also a good skill to try to expand upon what you’ve heard, and see if there are any additional elements your client would like you to carry out.  I have been making sure to clarify that everyone (our team, clients, advisors and liaisons) are on the same page in order to make sure that all expectations are met. 

Consulting cross- culturally during the pandemic gives us an interesting perspective on global business.  There are many things that are different about our experiences as Americans and Bolivians, but there are more things that are similar about our experiences.  We’ve all dealt with hardships this year.  We all wish that we were speaking face to face instead of zooming from many miles away, yet we all appreciate the time that we get to communicate and brainstorm together.  We appreciate the community and collaboration of all parties working together towards a common good: getting CEOLI the funding and exposure that this incredible organization needs and deserves.  Our team feels super passionate about trying to help CEOLI after the hardships the organization faces during the pandemic.   

One thing about the virtual setting that will prove to be an advantage is the accessibility of various things despite geographical location.  When the art show happens, anyone — no matter their location — will be able to join to watch, learn, and enjoy.  I think this will allow us to gain a bigger audience.  A virtual art show is an interesting concept of an event; I’ve never attended one! We are planning on featuring various cultural aspects along with information and exposure for CEOLI as a whole. Ariel, one of our clients, will be helping our team carry out some of the cultural aspects of the art show, and I am super excited to be learning from him!  I am really Italian, and I have been working on perfecting my Vodka sauce recipe as a way to honor my culture.  I hope that I can learn from Ariel how to cook a Bolivian dish! I love trying new foods and cooking has been a new challenge for me.  I often get embarrassed when dancing; I have no rhythm.  But, we had a session with Rodrigo where he taught us some Bolivian dances.  Although dancing isn’t really my thing, I was happy to engage in that cultural aspect.  

I’m excited to continue learning about Bolivian culture, and growing in my ability to conduct business cross-culturally.  Cultural differences and the pandemic create challenges, but I am determined to work hard with my team to create solutions that ultimately benefit CEOLI.