World Wise

Who Do You Think You Are?

Business Traveler (USA) - - INSIDE EVERY ISSUE - By Terri Mor­ri­son


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 DoYou ThinkYou 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’re Im­pa­tient

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 Blunt

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.

You’re Loud

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’re In­de­pen­dent

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.


What’s your Cul­tural IQ? True or False? “Re­spect”by Otis Red­ding, be­came Aretha Franklin’s sig­na­ture song.

E-mail your an­swer to Ter­riMor­ri­son@ kiss­bowor­shake­

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. BT

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