Cultural Differences in Networking

This article was originally posted on Dec 20, 2013, and has been updated


Culture determines behavior.  Pretty obvious right.  We learn how to behave based on a whole bunch of factors, and culture is one of the big ones.  But what happens when you move to a new country?  The classic answer is, “it depends.”  Success in their home country is often a poor predictor of success abroad.


When you move to a new place, one of the best ways to combat loneliness is to meet new people.  However, the best way to build a new network can vary significantly from country to country.  For example, the average American takes a very individualistic approach, while the average Japanese would prefer a more group-based approach.


In America, meeting new people is mainly dependent on the individual.  Introducing yourself to a new person is perfectly acceptable, and often admired both in the personal and professional level.   It is a significant first step in building an extensive network, and extroverts tend to be the most connected.


By contrast, in Japan, introductions need to be made.  On both the personal and professional level, you build an extensive network by effectively leveraging your relationships to get more introductions, and investing time and effort to take care and maintain those relationships.  Extroverts may have large networks, but it’s the people that take care of their existing relationships that end up being the most connected.  The networks may not be as large, but they are powerful.


The American that shows up in Japan and tries to build an extensive network through introducing him/herself to everyone would have a tough time making it through the door without the proper connections.  Likewise, the Japanese person arriving in America expected to rely on the strength of his company name or waits passively for a network that provides introductions will end up waiting much longer to meet the people he'd like. 


This is one example of why the most successful person back home may not be successful outside of their native culture.  Often the person who insists the most on doing things they would back home will never be fully integrated into their host culture and will struggle significantly both personally and professionally.


If you are moving to a new country, find out how things get done locally.  It might be hard for you to understand, but there is a reason why it works., and adapting your behavior to something more appropriate will only help you be successful.