How Culture Impacts Trust in International Trade

Trust. You can feel when it isn’t there. For those of us engaged in internationalisation, trust is crucial, as it enables us to establish a working environment to facilitate flourishing international business ventures. you ever stopped to consider what makes you trust someone? In his book Driven by Difference, Dr David Livermore, cites research that found there were 5 factors that people calculate to decide if they trust someone they are working with:

  • Likeability
  • Competency
  • Intentions
  • Reliability
  • Reputation

They are likely to all be relevant to you, however stop and think about it.  For most people one or two of these factors are more important than the others and each factor is also impacted by that person’s culture. 

For example, do you like and trust people more when they are demonstrative, or does that make you uncomfortable and your preference would be for someone more restrained and reserved?

What is interesting when I run training exercises on building trust to enhance the relationships necessary for successful internationalisation, is that people not only think about what is most important to them, they also know what triggers them to not trust someone. 

In the same room people will take opposite views.  It instantly enables people to understand better what triggers the reactions they have and develop a wider perception and understanding of behaviour.

In the environment of international trade, we are dealing with far more ambiguity than we may be accustomed to and we probably all have examples of when trust broke down through cultural misunderstandings.

How can we be more successful at building trust across cultures?  Be that with our international business partners, our international customers, our international suppliers or across virtual teams as we expand overseas?

The answer is simple: We can invest in developing our cultural intelligence (or CQ) to enhance our chances of success in international trade. Many times we focus our efforts on the financial aspects on internationalisation and fail to focus on the cultural impacts that may make or break the deal.

CQ (cultural intelligence) predicts our ability to establish trust across cultures (not to mention our leadership capability, negotiating capability and a whole host of other business essentials). CQ can be assessed and it can be developed to bridge the gap across borders, cultures and languages in international business expansion.

Organisations and people who are serious about being effective are investing in building their CQ, across leadership and teams. Make a commitment to ensure that you enable your international business to flourish by investing in building CQ,-  the capability which enables you to build trust across cultural diversity in the global workforce and international business environments.


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Lucy Butters is a partner at TBG and founder of Elembee Ltd, where she provides her expertise in Cultural Intelligence to support executives and their organisations in internationalisation and global expansion.

For quotation requests or to discuss your requirements, please write her directly at or visit to get in touch.