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Cross-Cultural Business: Behaviour Richard R. Gesteland 2 страница

The best way to get to know your local counterpart varies from one RF culture to another. In much of the Arab world steaming platters of rice and lamb may take the place of booze. Brazilians and Mexicans love to talk about their art, music, literature and films. And then there is golf In many parts of the world today a five iron closes the culture gap faster than a fifth of Scotch.

Yes, building trust and rapport with your customer is important everywhere in the world, not only in relationship-oriented markets. The difference is that with Arabs, Africans, Latin Americans and most Asians you have to develop that climate of trust before you start talking business. In RF markets, you first make a friend, then you make a deal.


You Need to Develop a Personal Relationship


In RF markets the relationship you build with your counterpart will have a strong personal component in addition to the company-to-company aspect. Your customer or partner will want to know that you personally as well as your company are committed to the success of the venture.

For instance, Watanabe-san may want to be able to phone Lars Larsen at any hour of the day or night to solve problems and smooth out difficulties.

And because of this personal element it is important that continuity is maintained as far as possible throughout the relationship. Lars should personally handle the NWW account, should make the return trips to Tokyo and should be on hand when Watanabe-san and his colleagues visit Denmark.

If Lars is promoted or transferred to another assignment he must take care to personally introduce his replacement. Since the Japanese already know Christina she might be well placed to continue the relationship. However, the special challenges women face in doing business with Japanese and certain other RF cultures should be taken into account when making such a decision. The delicate issue of gender and international business will be addressed in Chapter 5.


Bureaucracy in RF Markets


Business negotiations usually last much longer in RF than in DF cultures, for two reasons. First, it often takes time to arrange an indirect approach. And second, there is the lengthy process of building trust and developing a personal relationship.

When negotiating with governments and public sector companies in relationship-focused markets a third factor - bureaucratic inertia -comes into play. Of course, government officials everywhere tend to be cautious. They may find it safer to postpone a decision or to deny your request rather than to give their approval. Moreover, red tape often slows the process of getting things done. But in RF cultures suspicion of strangers, especially foreign strangers, often make officials even more hesitant to move things along.

That's why it took Volkswagen over nine years to negotiate the opening of an automobile factory with the government of China. And why McDonald's required more than 12 years to work out an agreement with the then Soviet government for raising the first Golden Arches in Russia.

Deal-focused executives should load their briefcase with an extra large supply of patience when preparing to do business with government officials in many RF markets.


The Importance of Face-to-Face Contact


The telecommunications revolution permits rapid correspondence with business partners around the world today. Telex, fax, E-mail, telephone and video-conferencing enable us to stay in constant touch with our international counterparts.

But none of the above has reduced the continuing need for face-to-face contact with our relationship-focused customers and partners. RF business people tend to be less comfortable discussing problems in writing or over the telephone. They expect to see their suppliers and partners in person more often than would be necessary in deal-focused markets.


The Role of the Contract


Deal-oriented business people rely heavily on written agreements to prevent misunderstandings and solve problems. U.S. business people in particular tend to take a rather impersonal, legalistic, contract-based approach when disagreements and disputes arise. I have an American friend who says, "If you took all 860,000 lawyers in' our country and laid them end to end ... Hey! Come to think of it, wouldn't that be a great idea!"

Many U.S. companies bring a lengthy draft contract and a lawyer to the negotiating table with them. They then proceed to discuss the proposed agreement clause by clause, consulting the legal adviser every time a question arises.

This approach makes sense in America, the world's most litigious society. But it can be counter-productive in RF cultures where business people rely more on personal relationships rather than on lawyers and detailed contracts. In strongly RF markets a better approach is to leave the lawyers at home and have them go over the agreement before it is signed.

Contrasting perceptions of the contract can cause misunderstandings between R.F and DF cultures. For example, a Korean partner might expect to renegotiate the terms of a contract as conditions change, even if the agreement had just been signed in New York a month ago. The Koreans would expect their close relationship with their U. S. counterpart to facilitate such a renegotiation.

The New Yorkers on the other hand might well misinterpret an early request for changing the contract terms as a sign that their new Korean partners are tricky, fickle and unreliable. R.F cultures depend primarily on relationships to prevent difficulties and solve problems while deal-focused cultures depend on the written agreement to fulfill the same functions.

As more companies from both sides of the Great Divide do business globally we can expect these n-misunderstandings to slowly diminish. In the meantime however executives need to be alert to cross-cultural differences that can wreck even the most promising international business deal.



4. Communicating Across The Great Divide: Direct vs Indirect Language


RF and DF business cultures also differ in the way they communicate. Negotiators on the deal-focused side of the Great Divide tend to value direct, frank, straightforward language while those on the relationship-focus side often favor a more indirect, subtle, roundabout style.

In my experience this communication gap is perhaps the largest single source of misunderstandings between RF and DF business people. Confusion arises because the two cultures expect quite different things from the communication process.


Harmony vs Clarity


It is really a question of priorities. For DF negotiators the priority when communicating with others is to be clearly understood. Most of the time they take pride in saying what they mean and meaning what they say. Dutch negotiators for example are justly famous for bluntness.

In contrast, RF negotiators assign top priority to maintaining harmony and promoting smooth interpersonal relations. Because preserving harmony within the group is so important, RF people tend to carefully watch what they say and do in order to avoid embarrassing or offending other people.


Fig. 4. 1 The Gross-Cultural Communication Gap


Direct Language DF ------------------- RF Indirect Language


Over the last 35 years I have noticed that the nearer the RF end of the continuum a culture is located, the more careful and indirect people are with their language. On the other hand, the nearer they are to the DF end, the more frank and direct people tend to be.

Things can get quite interesting when the two parties in a negotiation come from opposite poles, as is the case when most Americans and Japanese interact. For example, I have had the pleasure of negotiating with Japanese companies since 1971 and cannot recall hearing the word ,no' even one time.

Most Japanese, Chinese and Southeast Asian negotiators I have encountered seem to treat 'no' as a four-letter word. To avoid insulting you they may instead murmur "That will be difficult or "We will have to give that further study." Popular variations are "Maybe" and "That will be inconvenient."

Mind you, one of our sons speaks the language fluently and worked for a large Japanese company in Tokyo. While there he dated a number of Japanese young ladies and although he won't admit it, I think he may have heard the dread 'N' word once or twice.

Case 4.1 illustrates the contrasting approaches to business communication in RF and DF cultures.


Case 4.1: Bilingual Labels


As one of North America's largest importers of cotton garments, Great Northern Apparel of Toronto decided it was high time to start sourcing mens dress shirts in China. From an industry contact in the United States vice president Pete Martin heard about Evergreen Garments, a large manufacturer in Guangzhou with several years of experience supplying Los Angeles and New York importers.

After considerable correspondence Pete Martin flew to Guangzhou to finalize a purchase agreement for 8000 dozen shirts. Discussions with the Evergreen Garment people proceeded slowly but amiably, lubricated by endless cups of Chinese tea and punctuated by a couple of enormous banquets. Pete and the Evergreen team needed a week of nonstop meetings to agree on fabric construction, size and color breakdown, packing, carton markings, delivery, price and payment terms.

Exhausted from these interminable negotiations, Pete was looking forward to the signing ceremony on the last day of his visit. At this point however Pete suddenly remembered that Evergreen had not yet done business with Canada and hence might not be familiar with the Canadian bilingual merchandise labelling requirements. So he carefully explained that all apparel sold in Canada must carry labels showing fiber content and laundering instructions in both French and English.

This news seemed to cause some concern among the Evergreen team. Managing Director 11 had a long discussion with his production and export people and then replied with a smile, "Mr. Martin, I am afraid that supplying garment labels in French and English will be a bit difficult. The question of bilingual labels will require further study."

Careful to hide his irritation Pete further explained that bilingual labels were required by law in Canada. "If you wish we can send you the exact wording of the labels in both languages. just let me know. But the bottom line is that we really have no choice - it's the law."

The Chinese negotiating got together for another discussion. After a time Mr. Li spoke up with a smile, "Mr. Martin, as we said before this will be difficult. But of course we at Evergreen Garments will do our best to solve the problem." Relieved to have settled this last issue, Pete Martin signed the purchase contract and said his formal goodbyes to Mr. Li and his team.

On a warm spring day seven months later Pete got a call from the quality control chief at the Great Northern import warehouse. "Mr. Martin, we have a problem here. You know those 96,000 shirts that just came in from China? Well, they've got bilingual labels on them all right. But the labels are in English and Chinese'

Stunned, Pete slumped back in his chair, mentally calculating the huge expense of removing the illegal labels and having correct ones sewn in. The spec samples he had approved a few months ago had come in without garment labels, but that often happened and he hadn't thought much about it at the time. After all, the Chinese had agreed to supply French and English labels ... hadn't they?


Strongly RF people also have subtle ways of saying no with body language. Some Arabs lift their eyebrows to politely refuse a request - the nonverbal equivalent of the American slang expression, "No way, Joe&"

In many cultures clicking the tongue with a "Tsk Tsk" sound indicates a negative response.

Japanese and Thais often smile and change the subject or simply say nothing at all. I have found that silence during a meeting with East Asian negotiators often means "Forget it, Charley!"


The Myth of the Inscrutable Oriental


Suspicious deal-focused negotiators sometimes think all this indirectness is designed to confuse or mislead them. In fact it is the RF-D17 communication gap which gave rise to the myth of the 'inscrutable Oriental.'

But verbal subtlety and indirectness is only part of the story. To DF types East and Southeast Asians also seem inscrutable because they hide their emotions, especially negative emotion. In these cultures showing impatience, irritation, frustration or anger disrupts harmony and is considered rude and offensive. People mask negative emotion by remaining expressionless or by putting a smile on their face.

Thais for example seem to smile-die all the time. They smile when they are happy, they smile-die when they are amused, they smile when they are nervous, they smile even when they are absolutely furious. Thai people smile because to openly display anger would cause everyone concerned to lose face.


Communication and 'Face'


In the highly relationship-focused cultures of East and Southeast Asia, both sides lose face when a negotiator on one side of the bargaining table loses his temper. The person who displays anger loses face because he has acted childishly. And by openly showing anger he has also caused the other party to lose face. It doesn't take much of that to bring a promising negotiation to a lose-lose impasse.

As an unfortunate example, let's look at what happened recently during a long drawn-out negotiation in Ho Chi Minh City. Executives from one of northern Europe's largest breweries had been haggling for months with a Vietnamese public sector company over the details of an agreement to build a joint-venture brewery in central Vietnam.

Towards the end of a particularly frustrating day the leader of the European team could simply no longer mask his irritation. His face got bright red, he clenched his fist so hard the wooden pencil he was holding suddenly snapped in half.

At that sound the room instantly become silent. A moment later the entire Vietnamese team rose as one man and stalked out of the conference room. The next day a three-line fax arrived at the headquarters of the European brewery informing them that the Vietnamese would never again sit down at the same table with "such a rude, arrogant person" as the head of the European team.

What to do now? Months of painstaking discussions had already been invested in this complex project. To save the deal the Europeans decided to repatriate the offending manager and replace him with a stoic type famous for his poker face. Some months later the agreement was duly signed and visitors to central Vietnam can now imbibe lager and pilsner to their heart's content.

What could the deal-focused head of the northern European team have done to prevent that fiasco? When I asked participants in one of our recent Global Negotiator seminars that question, the best answer was "Take a walk!" Exactly. Call for a recess. Have a cold drink. Go for a brisk walk. Do whatever it takes to relax and cool down.

Your face turning red is an involuntary response you can't control. But you can take a break before something snaps.

While Westerners associate the concept of 'face' primarily with East Asian and Southeast Asian societies, it is in fact a cultural universal. To the Italians it is honore, to the Spanish dignlui, to Anglo-Saxons self-respect. Nowhere in the world do human beings enjoy rude and offensive behavior. We tend to feel uncomfortable when others are angry with us or when we are embarrassed, mocked or singled out for criticism.

It is true that people in relationship-focused culture are often especially sensitive to face, perhaps because RF cultures are group-oriented. One's self-image and self-respect depend very much on how one is viewed by others. That is why business visitors need to be especially conscious of how their verbal and nonverbal messages may be interpreted in RF cultures.


Miscommunication Across Cultures


The strong East Asian concern for covering negative emotion can be confusing to outsiders from deal-focused cultures. When we moved from Germany to Singapore in 1988 my wife and I decided to try learning Mandarin on weekends. We hired Stefanie, a pleasant young woman who had recently immigrated from Taiwan to tutor us.

My lessons were rudely interrupted late that year when my mother passed away and I had to fly to Wisconsin to attend the funeral. Unfortunately, barely had I returned to Singapore when my brother phoned again to break the sad news that our father had just passed away. As you might imagine, this was a very difficult time for me.

It happened to be a Saturday when I got back from this second funeral, and Stefanie dropped by to enquire why I had missed over a month's worth of lessons. Suffering from grief compounded by jet lag and exhaustion, I blurted out that both of my parents had just died.

A stricken look flashed across the young woman's face for just a fraction of a second, and she gasped. Then Stefanie suddenly laughed out loud, right in my face. And proceeded to giggle for several seconds.

Now, intellectually I was quite aware that people from certain cultures hide their nervousness, embarrassment or severe stress with a laugh. I also knew 1 should have broken my sad news much more gently. After all, Stefanic was a Chinese person raised in the Confucian way: She revered her parents. For her the sudden realization that she could perhaps lose both of them almost at the same time must have come as a terrible shock.

Nevertheless my immediate reaction to her laugh was visceral. I felt as though I had just been hit very hard in the stomach. Even though I understood rationally what had happened I had difficulty relating to Stefanie as 1 had before the incident. A few weeks later she stopped coming and we had to find a new Mandarin tutor.


'Low-Context' and 'High- Context' Communication


We have seen that RF negotiators tend to be circumspect in the use of language in order to avoid conflict and confrontation. The polite communication of Asians, Arabs, Africans and Latins helps maintain harmony. The meaning of what they are saying at the bargaining table is often implicit. That is, the meaning is found more in the context surrounding the words rather than in the words themselves.

Many years ago U.S. anthropologist Edward T.Hall, the guru of cross-cultural communication, coined the useful term 'high-context' for these cultures.

In contrast, when northern Europeans, North Americans, Australians and New Zealanders speak, more of the meaning is explicit - contained in the words themselves. A listener is able to understand what they are saying at a business meeting without referring much to the context. Hall termed these cultures 'low-context'.

For a Japanese executive trying to do business in Amsterdam this difference in communication styles quickly becomes obvious - as it does for a Swede or German trying to close a deal in Tokyo. That's because Japan lies at the high-context/RF end of the culture continuum while Sweden and Germany are perched at the low-context/DF end.


What is less obvious are differences between cultures which are located fairly close together on the continuum. For example, let's look at Greater China, the constellation of the PRC, Hong Kong (politically independent of the PRC until July 1997) and Taiwan. We will add Singapore as well because although the population of the lion City is only about 77 percent Chinese, the business culture is strongly Chinese-oriented.


Fig. 4.2


DF/Low Context -- Singapore -- Hong Kong -- Taiwan -- China -- RF/High Context


Figure 4.2 shows that while China - the mother culture - is still located at the RF and high-context end of the continuum, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore are spotted at varying distances away. Business people doing business in these three outposts of Chinese culture notice that while they are definitely more RF and indirect than say Australia, they are also more deal-focused and direct than most of their counterparts in the PRC.

Old Pacific Rim hands know that Hong Kongers and Singaporeans are somewhat more open to direct contact than PRC Chinese, require a shorter time for building rapport and tend to use more direct language.

Equally interesting, recent research by a Danish scholar reveals similar fine gradations of cross-cultural business behavior among markets at the deal-focused/low-context end of the spectrum. Professor Malene Djursaa of the Copenhagen School of Business studied the interaction of over 50 Danish, German and British businessmen and published her findings in the June 1994 issue of the European Management journal

Although all three of these European cultures are unmistakably low-context they also display significant differences - differences that can cause problems for people doing business in the three markets. While the British are clearly more low-context and deal-focused than Arabs, they are also more high-context and RF than their Danish and (especially) German counterparts.


Fig. 4.3


DF/Low Context --- Germany --- Denmark --- UK --- RF/High Context


In lengthy interviews with the business people of these three related cultures Professor Djursaa learned for example that Germans find personal relationships to be more important in the UK than back home. The interviews also reveal that the British employ more roundabout, indirect language than the Danes. Further, the Danes reported that they get down to business more quickly than the British but less quickly than the Germans.

The research of Hall, Djursaa and many other scholars confirms what business people have learned from experience: Differences in cross-cultural business behavior create invisible barriers to international trade.

Variations in verbal and nonverbal behavior can cause culture clashes. But a skilled interpreter can often smooth over verbal problems. That's what is going on when an interpreter takes several minutes to render in Japanese or Chinese what a DF speaker just said in a couple of short sentences. Part of the translator's task is to cloak overly blunt statements with the proper amount of polite circumlocution.


Saying It Like It Is vs 'Saving Face'


Even when indirect RF and direct DF people are both speaking the same language - English for example - they are really speaking different languages. A Dutch or German negotiator will choose his words carefully so that his counterparts will understand exactly what he is saying. He wants no ambiguity, no beating around the bush.

Meanwhile his Arab, Japanese or Indonesian counterparts are choosing their words even more carefully - but for a completely different reason. RF negotiators want to make sure that no one at the meeting will be offended. No rude directness, no crude bluntness, no loss of face.

I personally come from a fairly deal-focused background. When an Australian, a German or a Dane describes me as a direct, straightforward person I take it as a compliment. That's because in 13F cultures directness and frankness are equated with honesty and sincerity.

But those same adjectives coming from a Japanese would more likely be meant as criticism. Why? Because in RF/high-context cultures, directness and frankness are equated with immaturity and naivete - perhaps even arrogance. In strongly R.F cultures only children and childish adults make a practice of saying exactly what they mean. They just don't know any better!


The Two Meanings of 'Sincerity'


As a final illustration of the differences in 13F and RF communication styles let us look at the contrasting meanings of the word 'sincerity.' To English speakers from the deal-oriented part of the world sincerity connotes honesty, frankness. A sincere friend for instance is one who tells you the truth even when the truth is unpleasant.

In contrast, for RF people a sincere friend is one who always shows his willingness to be helpful. For example, suppose a West Asian asks a deal-focused person for a favor which the latter knows he will not be able to do. The 13F friend would probably show his sincerity by responding, 'Very sorry, I won't be able to do that because..."

The West Asian however would regard such a person as a very fickle friend indeed. A sincere friend would reply, "Of course! I will do my best and let you know ..." In relationship-oriented cultures you show sincerity by declaring your willingness to help out - even when you cannot or will not do the favor.

In the next chapter we move from the 13F/RF divide to that between formal and informal business cultures.



5. Formal vs Informal Business Cultures: Status, Hierarchies, Power and Respect


Many a promising international deal has fallen through when a negotiator from an informal culture bumps heads with counterparts from more formal cultures. In this chapter we will look at several examples.

Formal cultures tend to be organized in steep hierarchies which reflect major differences in status and power. In contrast, informal cultures value more egalitarian organizations with smaller differences in status and power.

Why does this matter when we are doing business abroad? Because contrasting values cause conflict at the conference table. On the one hand, business people from formal, hierarchical cultures may be offended by the breezy familiarity of counterparts from informal, relatively egalitarian societies. On the other hand. those from informal cultures may see their formal counterparts as stuffy, distant, pompous or arrogant.

Such misunderstandings can be avoided if both sides are aware that differing business behaviors are the result of differing cultural values rather than individual idiosyncrasies.


Culture Clash in Germany


I learned about the informality/formality divide the hard way in the early 1960s when my employer at that time, a Chicago export management company, transferred me to Germany to expand sales in Europe.

My first appointment was with our largest account. a distributor of hand-tools located in Stuttgart. I spent that day in meetings with the boss of the company, Doctor Wilhelm Mьller, and I found myself saying "Herr Dr. Mьller" and "Dr. Mьller" the whole day. All this formality was oppressive for a young man from the United States, one of the world's most informal cultures. So returning to Frankfurt that evening I phoned my German friend.

"Hans, I'm really tired of this medieval formality. How many times do 1 have to meet with this guy before I can start calling him 'Willi'?"

Fortunately Hans straightened me out on the formality issue right then. "You are asking when you can start calling Dr. Mьller by his first name? Well, the answer is niemals, Dummkopf! Never, you dummy!"

Of course Hans was right. 1 spent the next two years addressing this distinguished gentleman in the proper German way. And when I met his wife 1 called her "Frau Doktor." Why? Because that's the proper form of address in Germany, a relatively formal society.

I soon learned that most of Europe follows the same rules of formal address. Your French contact remains Monsieur Dupont, not Ren~. And for years in Italy we addressed the head of a our largest supplier in Italy with the honorific 'Commendatore' until we got to know him well enough to call him Gustavo.

By way of contrast, my most recent meeting in Sydney, Australia started with a hearty "G'day mate! Let's 'ave a beer!" Now that, dear reader, is an example of a very informal culture!

Formality actually is about status, hierarchies, power and respect. Whereas informal cultures are supposed to value status equality, formal cultures value hierarchies and status differences. Ignorance of this distinction can cause serious problems across the bargaining table. A participant in one of our export marketing seminars in Europe related an incident which illustrates the point.


Case 5.1: How to Insult a Mexican Customer


Jose Garcia Lopez, a Mexican importer, had been negotiating with a Danish manufacturing company for several months when he decided to visit Copenhagen to finalize a purchase contract. The business meetings went smoothly, so on the last day of his visit Sr. Garcia confided that he looked forward to signing the contract after his return to Mexico.

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