It’s A Small World After All: Getting To Yes In A Multi-Cultural Business Environment

By: Jerry Kalish, President of National Benefit Services, Inc.

No, I’m not talking about the ride It’s A Small World at Disney World or Disneyland, the legend of which has it that if you ride it, the song will stay in your head forever. I’m talking about being a business owner in a multi-cultural and multi-national business environment.

We’re challenged sometimes to be able to explain complicated and arcane rules about 401(k) plans to clients who may be Japanese, German, Swedish, or Indian, and for whom English is a second language. Not to say that we haven’t been challenged on occasion in talking with our British clients. Much of what we do is influence, or attempt to influence, clients. Not to sell but to help them make certain decisions that will result in them accomplishing their retirement plan objectives.

Noah Goldstein, Ph.D., and social psychologist, suggests that there are some subtle differences in how to tailor your tactics and your messages based on the cultural background of the person you’re trying to influence. He says that these differences result from the variation in cultural norms and traditions of diverse societies, which leads the people of these different societies to place greater weight on some aspects of a persuasive message than on others, and cites research to that effect.

Then, what are the implications for those of us who must communicate and counsel people from diverse backgrounds and cultures? It’s simply this. If we are moving from one cultural setting to another as part of our business, it is us that will have to adjust our communication strategies by being sensitive to their norms -not the other way around.

Jerry Kalish is President of National Benefit Services, Inc., a Chicago-based retirement plan firm. He publishes
The Retirement Plan Blog and can be reached at