Five top tips for creating trust with foreign colleagues


Business people around the world worry about working with foreign companies and people – because they don’t trust them. Americans are reluctant to work with folks from the Middle East, Australians describe Indonesia as a hard market and Brits worry about dealing with the French. Not many people are willing to extend trust, and it’s a problem. Trust is confidence in people, their integrity and abilities. Without trust, we suspect other people’s motivations, capabilities, integrity and abi

ability to produce results. You only need to think about the relationship that you enjoy with someone you trust and contrast it with your relationship to someone you don’t trust to feel how different they are. It’s not just the difference in how we feel about these different kinds of relationships that matters, though. There is a strong business case for the importance of trust in commercial settings, because it affects two outcomes – speed and cost. When trust decreases, speed decreases and cost increases. When trust increases, speed increases and cost decreases.

No trust – what cost?

Whether the cause is unethical behaviour or ethical, incompetent behaviour, low trust causes friction. It creates hidden agendas, politics, interpersonal conflict, interdepartmental rivalries, win-lose thinking, defensive and protective communication, all of which make relationships more difficult and business clunkier and more expensive. If you’ve done an international business deal you’ll probably recognise these problems. When we begin working with people who are different to us, we often wonder, ‘Are they telling the truth? Will they do what they say they will do? How do I know that their motives are good?” 

Uncertainties create suspicion, lead to delays in decision-making and cause people to second-guess the real meaning of what a foreign business partner or colleague says. They can also unnecessarily complicate contracts or even cause a deal to break down entirely. Conversely, trust speeds things up, produces results, builds loyalty, creates a winning culture, makes customers buy more and recommend more people, products, and services to their friends. In the context of international business, it can encourage people to ‘think big’, plan ambitiously, and move quickly. So, how do you create trust?

Develop strong interpersonal relationships

When embarking on an international business deal, it can be tempting to focus on the mechanics of the commercial transaction and forget about the people involved. Don’t do it. Getting to know your counterparts as people will go a long way toward increasing the flow of trust between you. Make the effort to create a real relationship with colleagues and partners that extends beyond the immediate boundaries of the work at hand. Share meals, find out about their families, their goals, aspirations and what motivates them. Look for shared areas of interest and common ground that you both understand, whether it’s antique clocks, tenpin bowling or mountain climbing.

Understand expectations

When you deal with someone from another culture, it’s vital to understand what their expectations are likely to be at the outset. Misunderstandings around expectations can damage trust quickly, by colouring how people perceive each other’s intentions and competence. This is particularly important when you are dealing with someone who has different standards around time, for example.

Demonstrate respect

In many cultures, showing overt respect is evidence of a good upbringing, and the casual manners of Western businesspeople come across as abrasive or rude. Understanding a cultural difference like this one is critically important to building trust across cultures. You can demonstrate respect by genuinely caring about the person across the negotiating table, taking an interest in who they are and what they need. Thinking about your counterpart as a person, and not just a means to a deal, is a good start. Showing that you care about them in the words that you use and how you act is a great way to follow up. Make sure it’s genuine though, there are few things more insincere than fake concern.

Listen before you speak

To build trust, you need to hear what your foreign colleague says, so that you correctly understand what they are trying to communicate before you start putting across your point of view. Don’t assume that you know what matters most to others and never presume that you have all the answers.

Extend trust

It’s often contrary to how we feel when working with foreigners, but extending trust is key to building trust. I’m not suggesting that you blindly trust every person who proposes a business deal, but I believe it’s better to begin with a mindset that is open to trusting people. When you extend trust first, you are likely to build trust with your international business partner or colleague much more quickly, which should help speed up whatever you’re trying to do. 

This story first appeared in the November 2022 issues of Inside Retail Magazine.


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