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Cross-Cultural Business: Behaviour Richard R. Gesteland 4 страница


Case 6. 1: Waiting in New Delhi


Richard was a 30 year-old American sent by his Chicago-based company to set up a buying office in India. The new office's main mission was to source large quantities of consumer goods in India: cotton piece goods, garments, accessories and shoes as well as industrial products such as tent fabrics and cast iron components.

India's Ministry of Foreign Trade had invited Richard's company to open this buying office because they knew it would promote exports, bring in badly-needed foreign exchange and provide manufacturing know-how to Indian factories.

Richard's was in fact the first international sourcing office to be located anywhere in South Asia. The MF ' T wanted it to succeed so that other Western and Japanese companies could be persuaded to establish similar procurement offices.

The U.S. expert decided to set up the office in the capital, New Delhi, because he knew he would have to meet very frequently with senior government officials. Since the Indian government closely regulated all trade and industry Richard often found it necessary to help his suppliers obtain import licenses for the semi-manufactures and components they required to produce the finished goods his company had ordered.

Richard found these government meetings very frustrating. Even though he always phoned to make firm appointments the bureaucrats usually kept him waiting for half an hour or more. Not only that, his meetings would be continuously interrupted by phone calls and unannounced visitors as well as by clerks bringing in stacks of letters and documents to be signed.

Because of all the waiting and the constant interruptions it regularly took him half a day or more to accomplish something that could have been done back home in 20 minutes.

Three months into this assignment Richard began to think about requesting a transfer to a more congenial part of the world - "somewhere where things work." He just could not understand why the Indian officials were being so rude. Why did they keep him waiting? Why didn't the bureaucrats hold their incoming calls and sign those papers after the meeting so as to avoid the constant interruptions?

After all, the government of India had actually invited his company to open this buying office. So didn't he have the right to expect reasonably courteous treatment from the officials in the various ministries and agencies he had to deal with?


Three decades as a monochronic person doing business in polychronic markets has taught me how to avoid some of the frustration. Here are three practical tips for rigid-time business travelers:

Find out in advance which of the markets you are going to visit are in fluid-time cultures. Forewarned is fore-armed.

Come armed with a well-filled briefcase. Instead of wasting time in the reception area twiddling your thumbs, compulsively looking at your watch and muttering curses, catch up on all that paperwork you never seem to have time for.

Above all, BE PATIENT.




Punctuality may also vary according to the occasion. Take Singapore, where business meetings usually start within five or ten minutes of the scheduled time. In contrast, wedding dinners are guaranteed to begin at least two hours after the time given on the invitation - by which time some of the weaker guests have fainted from hunger. Many of my I-ion City friends fortify themselves with an early dinner at home as a precautionary measure.

Or take Sao Paulo. I got used to business conferences starting 20 or 30 minutes late there, so when I received a dinner invitation for eight I decided to arrive about 8:30. But that proved to be quite a shock for the hostess: She was just getting out of the shower when I rang the doorbell. That's how I learned that an 8 pm dinner invitation in Brazil means you are supposed to arrive no earlier than nine and preferably closer to ten.

Not so with the Norwegians. My wife and I were invited along with several other expert couples to the home of Norwegian friends in Singapore. We all arrived at the house a few minutes before seven and stood around outside chatting with each other until exactly 7 pm, when one of the Scandinavian guests rang the doorbell. The monochronic Norwegians expect you to appear on time for any engagement, whether social or business.


Some rigid-time business people refer to Latin cultures as maniana societies. This kind of put-down doesn't seem to bother my Brazilian friends who tell me, "Brazil is the Land of Tomorrow. The only problem is, tomorrow never comes." But for polychronic folks in general the issue is really one of priorities. What's more important, they ask, people or an abstract concept like time?


Agendas: Fixed vs Flexible


Monochronic meetings tend to follow an agreed outline or agenda. At a typical negotiation in Germany, Switzerland or the Netherlands you can expect that to start off with a few minutes of small talk and then proceed in linear fashion from Item 1 to the last item on the agenda with no major digressions.

In France or Italy however the 'warm-up' chat is likely to last several times as long. And if there is an agenda at all you may start with Item 5, proceed to Item 2 and then wander off in several different directions at once. Polychronic meetings tend to follow their own inner logic rather than a fixed outline. The important thing is that everyone has his or her say.

What's more, in a decade of working with the Italians, the French, the Spanish and the Portuguese I found that in the end we usually accomplished what we came to do. The longer warm-up time served to get us all on the same wave length. And some of those apparently senseless digressions led us to creative solutions, helping us reach agreement.

I find the monochronic approach congenial because I was raised in a rigid-time culture. But after living for more than a decade in Latin Europe, Latin America and South Asia 1 now find the polychronic way equally congenial. In international business one soon learns that there is usually more than one way to achieve your goal. So choose the approach that best fits the local circumstances.


Schedules and Deadlines


Some strongly polychronic cultures have an aversion to rigid deadlines. Many Arab businessmen for example believe it is impious and irreligious to try to see into the future. God, not man is in charge of what will happen. 'The Arabic term Insh'allah -'God willing' - expresses that belief.

With counterparts from polychronic cultures it can be a mistake to set rigid deadlines and try to enforce them. Instead I recommend the following approach:

If you need something delivered or some action taken by say March 1, get your polychronic counterpart to agree on February 1 or even January 15.

During the whole time leading up to the deadline stay in frequent touch with your counterpart. Face-to-face contact is the most helpful.

In other words, put a comfortable margin in your scheduling and then maintain as close a relationship with your counterpart as possible. In highly polychronic cultures relationships count for far more than arbitrary deadlines.

Maybe the most important point to remember about the variable orientation to time is that while it is rude not to be strictly punctual in a monochronic culture, it is equally rude to patronize polychronic cultures who refuse to bow down in worship of Chronus, the god of time.

Let's now consider another important division between business cultures.



7. Nonverbal Business Behavior: Expressive vs Reserved Cultures


In Chapter Three we looked at verbal communication problems faced by people doing business across cultures. In this chapter we consider problems caused by differences in nonverbal communication.

People of other cultures misunderstand our body language just as they misinterpret the words we are speaking or writing. Fortunately however we can learn the highlights of another culture's nonverbal language much quicker than we can its verbal language.

There are three types of of interpersonal communication:

Verbal communication has to do with words and the meaning of words.

Paraverbal language refers among other things to how loudly we speak those words, the meaning of silence and the significance of conversational overlap.

With Nonverbal communication, also called body language, we communicate without using any words at all.


Expressive vs Reserved Cultures


Sharply varying degrees of expressiveness in paraverbal and nonverbal behavior cause unexpected problems for international managers and negotiators. Let us look at a relevant incident.

In 1989 and 1990 I made numerous trips from Singapore to Thailand in connection with setting up a Bangkok office for the large U.S. company I was working for. As regional director for South and Southeast Asia one of my responsibilities was to help our newly-designated manager recruit Thai staff.

With the help of a local Thai human resource consultant we placed recruitment ads in Bangkok newspapers, screened the applicants and selected about 10 young Thais for employment interviews. While the interviews with the men went smoothly enough, the female candidates were not responding well at all.

That presented a serious problem because qualified, English-speaking office workers and management trainees are not easy to find in Bangkok. And for some reason my interviewing approach seemed to be turning off a number of promising candidates.

I asked our human resources consultant what the problem was. She thought for a moment and then began talking around the issue politely, obviously trying hard to spare my feelings. Remember, Thais tend to be relationship-focused, high-context, hierarchical people. She did not want to offend a farang client - especially not a white-haired one.

Finally though our advisor managed to gently convey the message that I was talking too loud, using too much facial expression and too many hand gestures. She explained that the soft-spoken Thai women tend to interpret a loud voice as a sign of anger. Furthermore, my animated facial expressions and frequent gestures warned the women that I might not be quite right in the head.

So here was an angry, insane farang trying to interview potential employees. Small wonder those Thai women were not particularly interested!


Fig. 7. 1


VERY EXPRESSIVE CULTURES The Mediterranean Region Latin Europe Latin America

MODERATELY EXPRESSIVE USA and Canada, Australia and New Zealand, Eastern Europe, South Asia

RESERVED CULTURES East and Southeast Asia, Nordic and Germanic Europe


This was a problem of undue expressiveness. During the eight years 1 lived in Italy as a manager responsible for southern Europe and the Mediterranean region I had gradually become more expressive in order to be understood there. But now in Thailand, a very restrained culture, that exuberant Latinate communication style was causing me a problem.

So for the rest of the interviews that week I tried hard to modulate my voice, maintain an expressionless face - except for a smile of course - and keep both hands folded in front of me. It worked, and we were able to hire several bright young Thai men and women who were a credit to the company.

Figure 7.1 reveals which markets are expressive and which are reticent.

Note that Latin Europe and the Mediterranean area are among the world's most expressive cultures while Thailand is the opposite - one of the most reserved. So the culture clash related above is understandable. But as we will see in the next case, problems can arise even when cultures involved are somewhat closer together.


Case 7. 1: Baffled in Bangkok


Jane Reynolds was the executive director of an important trade association in Singapore. An outgoing, enthusiastic American who was successful in gaining the cooperation of the association's members, she had lived in Singapore for over ten years and got along with people there very well.

Jane was pleased when she was asked to chair the annual meeting of a Thai women's organization in Bangkok. Although Mrs. Reynolds was an experienced speaker and discussion leader, this was the first time for her to chair a conference in Thailand. When. Jane asked friends and colleagues for advice, they warned her that Thai women tended to be somewhat shy in public. They would probably be hesitant to offer their views and opinions in front of a large group.

So Jane was really delighted when during the morning session first one and then two other Thai participants quietly offered useful comments and suggestions. She showed her delight in characteristic fashion: Getting up from the table with eyebrows raised and arms waving, Mrs. Reynolds exuberantly thanked the three women and praised them for their contributions, making sure to speak loudly enough that all the attendees would be able to hear.

The meeting then continued, but for some reason there was no more input from the floor. In fact the Thai women stopped responding to the chairperson's questions as well, remaining silent for the remainder of the conference. .

After the meeting two of the Thai members who had spoken up approached Jane and tearfully asked, "Why were you so angry with us this morning? We don't know what we did to upset you so." Jane hastily replied that she wasn't angry or upset at all, but the two women just mumbled their good-byes and walked sadly away.

Jane Reynolds returned to her hotel that afternoon completely baffled by the reaction of the Thai participants. She wondered why things had suddenly gone wrong at the conference after such a promising beginning ...


Paraverbal Negotiating Behavior: Vocal Volume and Inflection


Reserved, soft-spoken business people also run into problems when negotiating with more expressive counterparts. A few years ago in Alexandria two American buyers were negotiating a contract with a large public sector manufacturing company.

Raymond was a stereotypically expressive, somewhat loud-mouthed Yank while Clem was unusually restrained and soft-spoken for an American. Clem led off the discussion of contract terms in a low monotone. After about ten n-minutes first one, then another and finally all three Egyptian negotiators fell sound asleep at the conference table despite having swallowed toxic-level doses of high-octane Turkish coffe e.

Raymond had spent enough time in that area to know that Egyptians tended to be very expressive communicators. They liked to speak loudly enough to be heard clearly, often raised their voices to emphasize important points and were known to literally pound the table when still further emphasis was called for. So after just a few minutes of Clem's low monotone the three executives apparently concluded that this guy had nothing really important to say and proceeded to drift off.

The Americans of course saw this as a problem. A negotiation with one side fast asleep is unlikely to be extremely fruitful. So the buyers called for a short break during which the officials gulped more coffee and Clem decided to leave the meeting for a tour of the city.

When the four men reconvened Raymond continued the discussion in a voice that was loud, clear and spiced with vocal inflection. By the time Clern rejoined the meeting that afternoon the two sides had reached agreement on the major points. It is amazing what negotiators can achieve when they are wide awake and paying attention.

"But wait a minute! Aren't the sellers supposed to adapt to the buyers?" Yes - unless of course that buyer really wants the deal and happens to know how to close the communication gap.


Paraverbal Negotiating Behavior: The Meaning of Silence


Expressive people tend to be uncomfortable with more than a second or two of silence during a conversation. In direct contrast, people from reserved cultures feel at ease with much longer silences. Japanese negotiators for example often sit without speaking for what seems like an eternity to voluble Mexicans, Greeks or Americans. After three or four seconds the latter feel compelled to say something - anything - to fill the awful silence.

If nature abhors a vacuum, expressive cultures abhor a lull in the conversation.

Unfortunately the loquacity of expressive people tends to irritate the reticent Japanese, who seem to value the space between the spoken words just as much as the words themselves. Negotiators from reserved cultures do not feel the need to engage in constant, stream-of-consciousness blabbing the way many of their expressive counterparts do.


Paraverbal Behavior: Conversational Turntaking vs Conversational Overlap


'Conversational overlap' is a twenty-dollar term for interrupting another speaker. While expressive people regard interruptions as a normal part of conversation, overlap is considered extremely rude by people from reserved societies. For instance, northern European and North American negotiators are often frustrated by the constant interruptions they experience while conducting meetings in Italy, Spain or the former Yugoslavia.

Scandinavian researchers have studied conversational patterns during business negotiations between restrained Swedes and Danes and their more expressive Spanish counterparts. They found that Spanish negotiators interrupt Swedes about five times as often as Swedes interrupt Spaniards. Since Scandinavians find interruptions disruptive and rude, it is easy to see how conflict can arise during meetings with expressive southerners.

Figure 7.2 diagrams the differences in conversational behavior across the international bargaining table.


Fig. 7.2


Expressive Negotiators: Overlapping each other


1st Speaker: ----------- ------------ --------------

2nd Speaker: --------------- --------------


Reserved Negotiators: Taking turns to avoid overlap


1st Speaker: ----------- ---------------

2nd Speaker: ----------- -----------


Japanese Negotiators: Intervals of silence between speakers


1st Speaker: --------- -----------

2nd Speaker: -------- --------------


This diagram shows that expressive negotiators typically overlap each other whereas more reticent ones take turns in a sort of verbal tabletennis match. But the superpolite Japanese not only take turns to avoid overlap, they go a step further, often pausing five or ten seconds before taking their conversational turn.

My experience is that problems occur with overlap unless both sides know about this cultural difference. Otherwise Latins and Arabs tend to think the Japanese are at loss for words or indecisive and the Japanese may find their voluble counterparts rude and insulting.

We know that at a sales meeting it is primarily the seller's responsibility to adapt his or her conversational behavior. During joint venture or strategic alliance talks however each side should strive to meet the other half way. The problem is, cross-cultural negotiators can make those adjustments only if they are aware that the potential for a communication conflict does exist.


The Four Key Elements of Nonverbal Negotiating Behavior


Veterans of cross-cultural business meetings find that differences in these four facets of body language are potentially the most disruptive in international negotiating sessions:

PROXEMICS: Spatial Behavior, Interpersonal Distance.

HAPTICS: Touch Behavior.

OCULESICS: Gaze Behavior, Eye Contact.

KINESICS: Body Movement, Gestures.


Distance Behavior: The 'Space Bubble'


Every human being is surrounded by an invisible envelope of air called a 'space bubble' which varies in size according to (a) where in the world we grew up and (b) the particular situation.

For example, two Canadians who have just met at a social event are likely to stand about an arm's length away from each other. But the space bubbles of two Canadians making love shrink to zero - they are meeting skin to skin.

No spatial problem exists as long as the people involved share similar-sized comfort zones. The difficulties begin in cross-cultural situations when different-sized space bubbles collide.


'Space Invaders' vs Cold Fish


Early in our eight-year stay in Italy I often felt vaguely uncomfortable during business discussions. Meeting rooms seemed to be overcrowded; I felt hemmed in. Then at a social gathering I heard other experts complain about Italians being pushy and aggressive. "Why do they always crowd so close, invading my space?"

That's when I finally figured out what was going on. Florence was our fourth or fifth expatriate assignment. By then we knew that when foreign visitors start a question with, "Why do they always ..." we were going to hear about another cultural clash. About that same time I overheard some Greeks and Italians at a bar in Athens describing Anglo-Saxons as "Cold fish - they always want to keep their distance."

A little research into the literature on proxemics soon cleared things up. I found out that the more expressive your culture, the smaller your space bubble tends to be.

Figure 7.3 shows the approximate range of same-gender space-bubble sizes across cultures in a business situation.


Fig. 7.3 Distance Behavior. The Use of Space


CLOSE: 20 to 35 cms (8 to 14 inches) The Arab World, The Mediterranean Region, Latin Europe, Latin America

DISTANT: 40 to 60 cms (16 to 24 inches) Most Asians, Northern, Central and Eastern Europeans, North Americans


Space: When Worlds Collide


Some Arab men show their friendliness to other males by moving in so close you soon know what they had for lunch. If you are a large-bubble person you will probably instinctively step back, which of course signals the Arab you don't like him. Not at all a good way to start a productive business relationship!

On the other hand, a small-bubble business visitor meeting his East Asian or northern European counterpart risks being taken for an ag~ gressive, even hostile person intent on intimidation.

The first few weeks in Italy 1 subconsciously tried to avoid those friendly Latin space invaders by keeping a conference table or desk between us. But our gregarious visitors from various parts of Italy and the Mediterranean basin would either walk right around to my side of the desk or lean towards me way across the table. Which made me feel they were constantly "getting in my face" - a revealing American phrase which connotes aggressive, threatening behavior. However, once I understood why Latins and other Mediterranean peoples like to get so close 1 felt more comfortable during business meetings there.

Expressive people engage in more physical contact in public than men and women from more reserved cultures. Figure 7.4 classifies cultures by the degree to which touch behavior is accepted.


Fig. 7.4


HIGH CONTACT CULTURES The Arab World The Mediterranean Region Latin Europe and Latin America

MODERATE CONTACT Eastern Europe, North America, Australia

LOW CONTACT CULTURES Most of Asia, UK and Northern Europe


How Touching!


Differences in touch behavior are serious enough for problems to arise even between cultures located fairly close together on the chart. For example, the "moderate" Americans do far too much shoulder-patting, elbow-grabbing and back-slapping to please most British people. But on the other hand Latin Americans often accuse Yanks of being snobbish and stand-offish because we do not engage in enough physical touching.

Similarly, the variation between the British and the French is surprisingly large considering that these two European countries are separated only be a narrow channel of water. Some years ago researchers studied comparative touch behavior in Paris and London cafes by counting the number of times couples touched each other on the hand, arm, shoulder etc. They counted about 100 touches in Paris and ... you probably guessed it ... exactly zero times in London.

Even though the French are known to be a tactile people compared to the Brits, that large a variation between people of neighboring cultures warns us of what to expect when we venture abroad.


Touching: How?


Touch behavior regarded as proper in one culture may be quite inappropriate in another. Shortly after we relocated to New Delhi I was surprised by an incident which occurred during a trip to Bombay (now called Mumbai).

After a very pleasant morning business meeting my Indian counterpart casually took my hand while we were walking to a restaurant for lunch. Now, at that point 1 had to make a quick decision. If a man wants to hold hands with me in Chicago, London or Frankfurt, I know exactly what is going on: In those cultures men who hold hands with other men are sending a clear nonverbal message of sexual interest. But here I was in India. Does same-gender hand-holding mean the same thing in South Asia?

For the next few seconds I was in a bit of a sweat. Then I remembered having seen a couple of our male friends in New Delhi holding hands with other men from time to time. 1 was glad to realize it was nothing more than a gesture of friendship. And even gladder that 1 had not hastily pulled my hand away - that would have been a very rude move indeed in India.


Touch Behavior: Shaking Hands Across Cultures


Among business people the world over the handshake is the most common form of physical contact. Figure 7.5 lists a few of the variations.


Fig. 7.5 The Handshake


Germans Firm, Brisk and Frequent

Arabs Gentle Repeated and lingering

French Light, Quick and Frequent

South Asians Gentle, Often Lingering

British Moderate

Koreans Moderately Firm

Latin Americans Firm and Frequent

Most Asians Very Gentle and Infrequent

North Americans Firm and Infrequent


Most Europeans shake hands each time they meet and again when they take leave. North Americans shake hands less often than Europeans but more firmly than most Asians.


The Eyes Have It


Perhaps the subtlest form of body language is gaze behavior. We are easily confused when people use either stronger or weaker eye contact than we do. Figure 7.6 displays the variations.


Figure 7.6


INTENSE EYE CONTACT The Arab World and the Mediterranean Region Latin Europeans and Latin Americans

FIRM TO MODERATE EYE CONTACT Northern Europe and North America Korea and Thailand



I conduct business with negotiators at both ends of the gaze-behavior spectrum. When meeting with Arabs, Turks and Latin Europeans for example 1 try to look them firmly- in the eye whenever I am speaking to them or they are talking to me. Very expressive cultures seem to value strong, direct eye contact.


Eye Contact in Expressive Cultures


My long assignment in Florence taught me the importance of appropriate gaze behavior. One day I was walking to the train station accompanied by my friend Paolo. It was a only a ten-minute stroll and there was plenty of time - or there would have been had it not been for the southern European concept of proper eye contact.

Every time Paolo had something to say he would grab me by the shoulders and turn me towards him so that we could look directly into each other's eyes. Since talkative Paolo did that every few steps, I actually ended up missing my train. From that day on 1 mentally doubled my estimated walking time when in the company of a Latin European.

Where I grew up you chat with your companions as you walk side by side, automatically scanning the surface in front of you so as to sidestep as many dog droppings as possible. But in the truly expressive societies of this world that kind of walking and talking would be considered cold and impersonal. Expressive people like to read your eyes and your facial expressions as they talk to you: Direct eye contact is a critical element of correct body language.

Italian gaze protocol in an automobile is especially interesting. Our first month in Florence found me on the autostrada headed for Milan at 140 kilometers an hour (over 85 mph) with my colleague Giorgio driving. Giorgio was briefing me on the complex negotiation scheduled for that afternoon and wanted to be sure I understood every single detail. So he kept studying my face intently to see if I was getting it while waving his free arm to emphasize the importance of what he was telling me.

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