Cultural Considerations in Networking A fully global society requires some understanding of cultural differences

Dr. Ivan Misner & Ed Craine

We have covered proven techniques for ensuring your networking efforts yield viable results in previous articles ( However, networking is a multi-faceted business tool, and as such requires vigilant attention to tiny details that sometimes we may miss altogether, simply because we’re unaware of them. In this article we’ll focus on a highly specific consideration that all mortgage professionals can easily conquer; cultural differences. The awareness of cultural differences and a conscious effort to be cognizant of them will further improve your networking results even after you’ve found your target market, surrounded yourself with prospects, discovered your prospect’s burning issues and then built and managed your team of specialists.

With our world becoming an ever smaller place, and dozens of cultures represented in nearly every city in every state; loan officers, originators, account executives and managers can all benefit from taking a look at some cultural differences as they may relate to networking etiquette.

Focus on Similarities
Differences in culture can become stumbling blocks to developing a strong relationship-which is, after all- the ultimate goal of networking. Unfortunately, it can be easy to focus on differences in cultures, which may hinder a viable working referral relationship. This is a travesty, as it may lead to the development of a “them” vs. “us” mentality.

Instead, focus on finding things that bring you and your potential referral partner together-things that are similar for all networkers. Case in point; we all speak the language of referrals, and we all want to do business based on trust. This transcends many cultural differences.

That said, loan originators in this day and age would be wise to be aware and prepared for some of these specific cultural differences that may affect your networking success. While there are certainly more cultural differences than we can count, we’ve chosen to highlight three of the simplest ways to avoid turning cultural differences into stumbling blocks.

Business Card Etiquette
Exchanging business cards is an essential part of most cultures. For example, in most Asian countries, after a person has introduced themselves and bowed, the business card ceremony begins. In Japan, this is called meishi. The card is presented to the other person with the front side facing upwards toward the recipient. Offering the card with both hands holding the top corners of the card demonstrates respect to the other person.

While you may not find yourself in Japan, and thus the bow would not be expected, keep in mind that the exchange of business cards means much more in Asian culture than American. It’s viewed as truly an extension of the individual and is treated with respect. Actions, including tucking it into a pocket after receiving it, writing on it, bending or folding it in any way, or even looking at it again after you’ve first accepted it and looked at it aren’t considered polite and can potentially insult a networker who holds the exchange of business cards in high regard.

Consideration of “Personal Space”
When networking and meeting others with whom you wish to pursue word-of-mouth marketing it’s crucial to understand the subtle, unspoken dynamics of personal space in every culture. This may reveal itself at a CAMB meeting, at a REALTORS® meeting, or even if you attend your community’s Chamber of Commerce meetings.

Have you ever wondered why a referral relationship soured, even though you thought that you were holding up your end of the bargain? It could have been nothing more than expressing discomfort from having your “bubble” encroached upon. Some cultural dynamics are fine with close, personal interaction, while others (namely ours) demand a bigger bubble. This is not a point to underestimate.

There are three basic separations to consider when taking personal space into account. For Americans, they typically are: public space (ranges from 12 to 25 feet), social space (ranges from 4 to 10 feet), personal space (ranges from 2 to 4 feet), and intimate space (ranges out to one foot).

Use of Slang
When using slang at a networking function, you might want to keep in mind that what means one thing to you may have no meaning, or a very different meaning, to a potential referral partner from another culture. While often times these slips-of-the-tongue can be humorous, in some instances they can offend others.

A perfect example can be seen through the use of the common networking phrase, “word- of-mouth.” There are some European countries which don’t have a direct translation for this common slang. Instead, it is translated as “mouth-to-mouth.” Imagine trying to explain to a potential European networking partner that in America, we do things mouth to mouth! While this is certainly a humorous example, there are cases when using slang can truly foil a partnership. You may consider learning some of the basic slang terms for various cultures by visiting this site for some pointers.

As you have the opportunity to network with others from different cultures and countries, don’t hesitate to initiate a conversation because you’re not sure how your actions will be interpreted. Just do a bit of homework ahead of time. One great resource for information on customs and business etiquette is

In general, networking basics are universal. Spending some time now to learn about other cultures and nuances that may appear as a result of differences, will give you a leg up on the competition. Even better, you can be assured that your networking etiquette will be appreciated here at home, and should your mortgage business take you into other countries.

Dr. Misner is a New York Times bestselling author, Founder & Chairman of BNI (, and the Founder & Visionary behind the Referral Institute ( Dr. Misner can be reached at .

Ed Craine is CEO of San Francisco based Smith Craine Finance, an award winning mortgage brokerage. He was appointed Vice President of CAMB in 2007. Ed serves as an Executive Director for BNI, and writes the column Ask Ed on
. Contact Ed at 415-406-2330 or


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