CULTURAL INTELLIGENCE IN AFRICAN BUSINESS

In my last article, I dwelt on how African businesses must ensure that they prioritize cultural intelligence in all their undertakings in such a manner that all employees understand that the beliefs, values, and communication styles of their global client base are key to maintaining a competitive advantage.

Many years ago, I was a Team Leader in the marketing unit of one of Nigeria’s biggest and most successful international financial institutions. My office was located in the heart of a bustling, oil-rich city, and this meant that our clientele cut across high net worth people and organizations of very distinct and varied nationalities and cultures. My team was a repository of some of the organization’s smartest young people with top-notch training and hands-on experience in sales and marketing. A very hardworking colleague of mine was constantly following up with a customer – an Indian executive, and this entailed regular conversations over the telephone almost on a daily basis.

My colleague was of the Yoruba ethnic stock in Nigeria. If you are conversant with folks from that part of Nigeria, you would have noticed their natural predilection for effusive introductory salutations during conversations. The typical Yoruba conversationalist would naturally spend ample time repeatedly inquiring after the general wellbeing of all your relatives. It is their unique way of expressing love and concern.

None of us knew that, for months, my colleague had persisted in communicating with the Indian manager in this manner to the point of complete exasperation. On the day he finally decided to put a stop to the obvious irritation, the man sternly and curtly blurted out to my colleague over the telephone to spare him the long intro and “tell me business only!”

That was a classical case of cultural intelligence gone so wrong. Cultural Intelligence demands that we recognize that business in today’s world is hinged squarely on a holistic appreciation of cultural differences, beliefs, and attitudes that are very different from our own. To avert the sort of unpleasant scenario that unfolded in my colleague’s dealings with the Indian client, we must conscientiously get better at understanding and operating in a wide variety of cultures. A lack of cultural intelligence can lead to the type of gaffe that will cause upset and/or embarrassment, and which could potentially derail a business deal or project. Professionals that possess a high cultural intelligence quotient are more adept and successful at their work and business.

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Written by: Noela UGWU, Image Consultant and a communication expert.

7 November 2021, Nigeria

Category: Cultural Intelligence

Reference: NU171121CI

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