“Even in front of other people, Israelis tell their manager that something is wrong”
Born in Tel Aviv, 42-yearold Osnat Lautman Mansoor studied in Israel and the US. Part German, part Brazilian, Mansoor was shocked when her boss at an international US company told her that she didn’t like her. Mansoor realized that she had made a lot of what she calls “cultural mistakes”. This motivated her to “explore the topic of cross-cultural communication”. Researching her book Israeli Business Culture: Building Effective Business Relationships with Israelis (see page 32), she interviewed more than 100 people from all over the world, asking them to share their experiences of working with Israelis.
Can you sum up Israeli business culture?
In my book, I have a model in which I use “ISRAELI” as an acronym. Each letter represents a word for an Israeli characteristic: I is for “informal”; S is for “straightforward”; R is for “risk-taking”; A is for “ambitious”; E is for “entrepreneurial”; L is for “loud”; I is for “improvisational”.
Everything in cross-cultural communication is about a spectrum, and it depends where you are on this line. Being straightforward, Israelis are at one end of the spectrum. At the other end are the Chinese, Japanese and Indians. Even in front of other people, Israelis tell their manager that something is wrong. There is a lot of emotion, too. When we look at the spectrum, Germans are right next to Israelis, meaning that German people also speak a very straight language. They are very direct compared to British people or Americans. But are there also differences between Israelis and Germans?
Even though both of them are direct, German people are very organized. They are much more diplomatic, even though direct. While Israelis are very passionate and use a lot of emotion, Germans don’t. This is why Israelis sound much more direct than Germans.
How important are trust and personal relationships in business?
There is a spectrum that ranks people as being task-oriented or relationship-oriented, which concerns building trust. At one end of the spectrum are Americans, who are very taskoriented. Israelis are much more relationship-based. This means that in Israel, relationships are the most important thing: “I’ll do business with you because I like you.” You can have a wonderful product, but if I don’t trust you personally, then I’m not going to do business with you.
And it’s different again working with British business people?
When working with British people, you need to learn how to read “the map” — in a way, you need to look for specific words, dates and people. If it’s just “It’s been nice talking to you” or “Let’s talk in the future”, that means: “There is no future.” You really need to hear that “It was wonderful” and “Let’s schedule another meeting” on this date with this person. You need specifics — otherwise, they’re just being nice.
Osnat Lautman Mansoor