Quoting funky hit tracks from the early ‘70s may be unwise in 2013. But even if you don’t recall the Staples Singers, Joe Cocker, or Jean Knight the messages are still clear. Actually, the line “Who Do You Think You Are?” is from Ms. Knight’s song “Mr. Big Stuff.” Her question was posed to a roué who had “fancy clothes and a big fine car.”
Evidently, Mr. Big Stuff did not have the qualities that Ms. Knight desired and she moved on. But is there anything really wrong with putting your personal wealth on public display? Driving up in a performance car can electrify prospects in Miami, Monte Carlo and Dubai (the United Arab Emirates has its own Grand Prix and many Emiratis love discussing hot cars). But ostentation can easily send the wrong message in the Netherlands, Sweden and other egalitarian societies. Humility and frugality are coming back into vogue at the Vatican too – under the ascetic new Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis.
Qualities like compassion, courage and loyalty are almost universally admired. But other characteristics, like stoicism, are highly respected in many parts of Asia. Just ask any OB/GYN who has delivered babies for Hmong or Japanese women. Physicians have been caught unaware that a birth is imminent because the mothers are so quiet during labor. Enormous self-control was also evident during the catastrophic tsunami in Japan. Want to be respected in Japan? Be intelligent, humble, thoughtful, a good sport and never whine.
Along with cultivating qualities that are appreciated in different cultures, it is important to avoid behaviors that are considered unproductive or insulting. Here are a few traits that international executives and managers commonly mention when asked “What do you think of business people from the US?”
You think time is money. You jump into business discussions before introductions are even done. You try to close deals in one visit. You talk so fast we don’t have time to translate your words and process the data before you’re on to the next topic.
Impatience can be off-putting anywhere, but because many cultures have longer orientations towards time and relationships, they will not do business with someone until they know, like and trust them. A first visit is often just to get to know you in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Even if it is just a phone call or a Skype meeting, the effort you expend building a personal relationship will be well worth it. And unless we all decide to become fluent in multiple languages, English-speakers should slow down, enunciate and avoid jargon in business meetings.
You’re very direct and always think honesty is the best policy. You expect a “yes or no” answer all the time. We don’t want to hurt your feelings or embarrass you, so we say “it’s difficult” or “perhaps we can consider this at our next meeting.” That means no!
Diplomacy is held in high regard in many cultures. Subtle, indirect answers are common in India, Japan, Malaysia and other countries. Being forced to deliver bad news personally can mean the end of the relationship – and the deal.
You Dislike Silence
If there’s an instant of silence, you seem compelled to talk. You answer your own questions before we’ve had a chance to respond. Conference calls are filled with interruptions and overlapping conversations.
Pausing for 5 to 10 seconds between questions and answers can be a sign of respect, and does not signify consent or disagreement. If possible, assign a “moderator” on conference calls who will elicit responses from each participant. Tell US personnel to pause for 2 to 3 seconds before speaking. In face-to-face meetings, learn to sit and wait quietly – count 5, 10, or even 15 seconds before you respond. Listen, don’t talk.
We hear you everywhere - in offices, down hallways, in restaurants, across the street.
Modulate the volume of your voice. At a café in Paris, the people at the next table should not be able to hear you. Avoid raucous, high-pitched laughter which can be startling and irritating. Also, try to speak in a lower register. There’s substantial evidence that lower, deeper voices communicate authority and honesty.
You don’t consult anyone. You make decisions alone.
In cultural anthropology, this is called individualism. It means we don’t consider the desires of everyone else before we make choices. In contrast, Chinese or South Korean individuals will generally abide by the consensus of the collective group – even if he or she personally disagrees with that decision.
One might argue that depending upon the circumstances, the attributes above may be perceived as assets. But if you want to leave a positive impression during your travels, at least listen to your international associates’ viewpoints, adapt a bit and earn some respect.
WIN A FREE BOOK! CONTEST:
What’s your Cultural IQ? True or False? “Respect” by Otis Redding, became Aretha Franklin’s signature song.
E-mail your answer to TerriMorrison@kissboworshakehands.com
A free copy of Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands: The Bestselling Guide to Doing Business in More Than Sixty Countries and Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands: Sales & Marketing will be awarded to two correct respondents, courtesy of F&W Media and McGraw-Hill.
March’s Contest Answer: Realtors often put their photos on their business cards.
Terri Morrison is a Speaker, Co-author of 9 books, and is working on her 10th. She is also Editor of Kiss Bow or Shake Hands Digital - available through McGraw-Hill. TerriMorrison@kissboworshakehands Twitter @KissBowAuthor. Tel (610) 725-1040.
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