Having lived in three continents and working in a profession investing in developed and emerging markets all day long and working with many types of nationalities, I have always thought I am a pretty multi-cultural person. This book called “The Art of Doing Business Across Cultures” by Craig Storti is a recent favourite of mine, opening my eyes to the nuances of 10 very important cultures of the world (they tend to be the larger countries including The Arab Middle East, Brazil, China, England, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, and Russia). Even though it is written from the perspective of Americans dealing with the different cultures, in this global marketplace, every business person will have a chance to deal with many different cultures and would find the advice of this book useful.
I love some of the writings of the book:
The Americans are culturally quite close to the Germans. According to John Ardagh:
[they] may differ greatly in their degree of social formality, but they share something of the same business ethos, the same liking for thoroughness, efficiency and modernism, and the same fondness for litigation.”
So what are some of their differences:
Americans are more tolerant when the lines between work and personal life become blurred, perhaps because professional accomplishments comprise more of their identity.
According to Greg Nees:
[W]hen they are at work, Germans do indeed work quite effectively and with great focus. But when the workday is finished, so are the workers. Punctuality is apparent, not only in starting times but also at the end of the workday; employees see overtime as an infringement on their private lives…
The Germans say Dienst ist Dienst, und Schnaps ist Schnaps – duty is duty, and liquor is liquor.
Things do get done in Brazil, but it’s in spite of the system, not because of it.
This is the Brazilian’s jeito or jeitinho – their subtle ways to circumvent difficult situations via “doing favours”. This is quite foreign or even looked upon negatively in America as Americans do not promote “favoritism”. As Jacqueline Oliveira said:
The primacy of family and the ingroup in the Brazilian value system often explains Brazilian behaviour, including why punctuality cannot always take priority.
Jacqueline Oliveira said this:
[Brazilians} may forgo a business obligation if a family matter arises…
There is also a deep sense of fatalism that pervades the Brazilian culture – many things can happen outside of one’s control which therefore simply must be accepted. Fatalism and resignation thus explain why Brazilians often tolerate lateness, while Americans are obsessed with time [Americans believe in achievements, which are effort + time.]
Other cultures may find the Chinese way of dealing with compliments curious. As Scott Seligman writes:
Accepting them outright is not considered good etiquette; a Chinese is expected to deflect compliments and pretend he or she is unworthy of receiving them…one of the common phrase [the Chinese use]…is nali…that has come to mean something like “it was nothing.” It’s as if to say the kind words you have just uttered couldn’t possibly be directed at me…
Valuing group’s opinion over one’s own, the Chinese are taught to be humble, leading to routine self-effacement and personal modesty, which the Americans inevitably misinterpret as a lack of confidence. Americans are one of the most individualist and the least group-oriented of all cultures, and so anything that affirms, supports, or strengthens the self is valued in America. The Americans come across as boastful because in their culture, unlike that of the Chinese, they cannot rely automatically on other group members for support and validation.
Americans, despite their directness, do not like to argue; in their conversations, they look for common ground and they often agree to disagree. But not the French. As Erin Meyer writes:
French business people view conflict and dissonance as bringing hidden contradictions to light, and stimulating fresh thinking…[W]e make our points passionately. We like to disagree openly. We like to say things that shock. With confrontation, you reach excellence, you have more creativity, and you eliminate risk.
The Arab Middle East
The Arabs are not only exuberant, enthusiastic, emotional people – not just in their actions but even more so in their words.
This tendency to exaggerate [and overemphasize] makes it difficult for Westerners to understand how Arabs actually feel and how enthusiastic they truly are about suggestions and proposals. A quick guide: The absence of any enthusiasm or positive comments is a sure sign of a negative reaching, especially given the fact that Arabs, unfailingly polite, rarely indulge in overt criticism. Modest enthusiasm, a few pieces of mild praise, signals a neutral reaction. Effusiveness, exaggerated enthusiam, and hyperbolic praise all indicate a positive response.
A standard complaint by Russians against Americans is that they lack dusha, or soul. Russians like to connect with their business partners, to have a brief glimpse of the other’s soul. Elizabeth Roberts observes:
Russians prize the quality of soul above others…they often have a tendency to open their soul to complete strangers.
Yale Richmond writes:
Russians do have a rich spirituality, that does indeed contrast with Western rationalism, materialism, and pragmatism…the rational and pragmatic approach does not always work for them. More often it is personal relations, feelings, and traditional values that determine a course of action. Westerners are more likely to depend on the cold facts and to do what works.
There are many more gems and dialogues as exercises in the book to enjoy and learn.
The author said, there is always a reason why people do the strange things they do, the reason is almost never to upset you, and there is always a way forward.