When you travel internationally, do you research cultural norms of your destination before going?

SmartPulse -- our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership -- tracks feedback from over 240,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our newsletter.

When you travel internationally, do you research cultural norms of your destination before going?

  • Always. I want to fit in and not offend anyone: 51%
  • Sometimes. But if I make mistakes, so be it: 22%
  • Rarely. I’ll only research extremely foreign cultures: 7%
  • Never. They can accept me as I am: 2%
  • I don’t travel internationally: 17%

Being obtuse can lose you opportunities. Small mistakes related to customs and social graces can lead to lost opportunities. Inadvertently insulting a business partner, colleague, candidate, or client can leave them frustrated or insulted by your interaction with them. The Internet makes it easy to learn about everything from customary greetings, hand gestures that are insulting, tipping, and ways of working. Ignore doing your research at your own peril. The flip side of this is that people will find it endearing that you’ve gone to the trouble to learn about their culture and customs. That goes a long way toward building trust-based, respectful relationships. So the next time you’re on that long flight overseas, spend some of those hours doing some basic Internet research on the culture you’re about to visit. The relationship you lose or save might depend on it.

Mike Figliuolo is managing director of thoughtLEADERS. Before launching his own company, he worked at McKinsey & Co., Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He's the author of three leadership books: "One Piece of Paper," "Lead Inside the Box" and "The Elegant Pitch."