“One of the most effective ways to learn about oneself is by taking seriously the cultures of others.
It forces you to pay attention to those details of life which differentiate them from you”.
- Edward T. Hall, The Silent Language
If you are a global real estate practitioner, it’s likely that you interact routinely with clients from a variety of cultures. And, if you are a seasoned international professional, then you have seen first-hand how someone’s culture can shape behavior and expectations in both business and social settings. The way people make decisions, place trust in others, disclose information, or even make eye contact is often rooted in cultural mores. Successful global practitioners have a firm grip on cultural fluency- meaning they have familiarity with different cultures and their actions reflect this familiarity. If you are just beginning to explore the global arena, spend time learning about the cultures of your international clients. You don’t want a transaction to go sour, or lose a client because of a cultural mistake or misunderstanding. Interactions with foreign clients and customers proceed best and lead to successful transactions when you are sensitive to their expectations of business and social behaviors.
Generalization vs. Stereotypes
There is a fine (and often gray) line between generalizations and stereotypes. We can summarize our experiences by saying most, many, or some of the individuals in a particular group tend to share certain characteristics. This process of generalization helps us to organize our thoughts and interpretations. In this regard, generalizations are useful as guidelines. Generalizations allow us to revise our opinions and responses as we observe how an individual’s behavior and reactions match or differ from these expectations. But, be careful not to stereotype. The less we know about the individuals who belong to the group, the more the stereotype turns into a cultural myth. Generalizations become harmful stereotypes when we allow them to interfere with treating people as individuals.
The Role of the Real Estate Practitioner
Cultural learning can work both ways. Foreign clients and customers are curious and sometimes as confused about the cultural, social, and business expectations of U.S. businesspeople. As a real estate professional, you can serve as a cultural interpreter for foreign clients and customers. However, to liaise successfully, it is important to understand their thought process and where they are coming from.
Real estate professionals understand the importance of building relationships with clients to promote business opportunities. For some cultures, relationships are the key to successful transactions. Simply put- where there is no relationship, there is no business. To be a successful global practitioner, you don’t have to change who you are or your culture, you just need to know how to adapt your outlook and behavior.
High Context and Low Context Cultures
While no one wants to be the subject of a statement like, “he’s such a typical….” the concept of high and low context cultures help us generalize about the traits of individuals within a group. This concept can help us adapt our business behavior when we are first getting to know a new client. Even first- generation and second-generation offspring of immigrants may still be immersed in their parents’ culture. They may expect and/or appreciate real estate professionals’ sensitivity to cultural preferences. However, the more time you invest in the relationship, the more you will know how to best adapt your behavior to suit the needs of your individual clients.
The below chart reviews the differences between high context and low context cultures. It is important to remember that this information is only useful as a generalization and a starting point.
To learn more about cultural fluency, high and low context cultures, and how to best work with global buyers and sellers, sign up for Certified International Property Specialist (CIPS) designation training courses which are designed to help real estate professionals know how to interact with people from around the world. Elective courses are divided up by regional focus- Europe, the Americas (Caribbean, North, Central, and South America) and Asia/Asia Pacific. Each course covers business practices and social behaviors specific to individual countries and cultures within the region. For more information, visit realtor.org/designations-and-certifications/cips-designation