Recently I was fortunate enough to “pick the brain” of the wonderful author, trainer, public speaker and global business consultant Barry Tomalin. Barry has authored several useful books and guides, including the groundbreaking The World’s Business Cultures: How to Unlock Them, which is now in its 3rd edition. Below are some questions I asked Barry, as well as his thoughtful responses. Given all his valuable insight, here is Part I of a two-part blog.

  1. What was your purpose for writing this excellent book? Mike Nicks, my co-author, and I sometimes worry that culture, although fascinating, can be very distracting. I work as a trainer in corporations and higher education institutions. As part of that work, I identify potential culture-related issues and evolve strategies to deal with those issues. The problem is where to look for the answers! In writing World Business Cultures, our goal was to identify the questions you need to ask, and to provide some of the answers.
  1. Which other authors and thinkers have influenced your work? Everybody I ever meet is a potential influence. That said, certain authors are key to this field. Foremost among them today is Richard Lewis, whose Lewis Model is used by the World Bank and whose works, When Cultures Collide and When Teams Collide, are must reads. He owes a debt in his turn to ET Hall, whose ‘Silent Language’ was a seminal work in the field. I also value the paradigm approach of Fons Trompenaars and Charles HampdenTurner, both former teachers at Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School, in Riding the Waves of Culture and subsequent volumes. Robert House’s GLOBE project is very important for culture and leadership studies. Geert Hofstede is everybody’s starting point (still going strong at www.geert-hofstede.com). Check out Cultures and Organizations, the McGraw Hill edition. I like some of the practical descriptions of business culture, especially in books like John Mole’s Mind Your Manners or Terri Morrison’s Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands. One American in Europe based in France that we have to mention is Dr. George Simons, the doyen of cultural training with his Diversophy group.
  1. What intrigues you the most about world cultures? Three things: communication, management and expectations. I started off as an English teacher to non-English speakers, so I’m fascinated by different communication styles. In my book, I identify six key styles of communication and show how to adapt to each one. With respect to management style, it is fascinating to see the different attitudes to organization, leadership, decision-making, gender politics, timely delivery, and so on that exist in different business cultures. There is a view in many of today’s multinational corporations that one size fits all. It doesn’t. Instead, the message has to be ‘Go global but THINK LOCAL.’ Finally, and most importantly, is the hidden factor: expectations. Expectations of our business relationship. What are yours? If they don’t mesh, we simply should not do business, but firms waste millions of dollars learning that hard lesson.

NEXT: Learn the single most fascinating thing Barry discovered when writing his book, what he’d like to explore next, and more.