Great Ideas for your Small Business:
Learn about a Culture before Doing Business
Sometimes an international business deal that makes perfect sense falls apart for no apparent reason. The numbers look good, but personalities clash, or someone says something that sends the deal spinning out of control.
The problem may be caused by a breach of business etiquette, according to experts in protocol and negotiation. “About 80 percent of all business owners going abroad fail to complete a deal because they don’t do their homework,” said Syndi Seid, founder of Advanced Etiquette in San Francisco.
Frank Acuff, author of How to Negotiate Anything with Anyone, Anywhere Around the World (AMACOM; 1997) agrees. “American culture focuses on the logical part of the deal, but in other cultures the relationship comes first,” said Acuff, director of Human Resources International based in Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois. Knowing how to act in a foreign business situa- tion is critical to your success, he said, especially since many entrepreneurs are thinking globally for the first time.
Acuff said Americans are considered too open and direct by most foreigners. “We are not widely regarded for our business savvy in other parts of the world.” For example, Americans often complain that Japanese businesspeople do not look them in the eye.
But the Japanese consider looking directly at someone to be a sign of disrespect, according to Acuff. “Some countries, like China, have a strong need for harmony,” he said. “So they may agree to do something, but not comply with the terms of the agreement.” He said Americans are often frustrated when foreigners have a totally different concept of time. Americans, Germans, Swiss, and Australians tend to be prompt and expect meetings to begin on time.
But Latin Americans, for instance, usually begin meetings a half hour after the appointed time and can’t understand why their American guests are so agitated. Another common problem: Americans prefer to have about three feet of space around them, Acuff said. Yet Latin Americans and Middle Easterners often embrace their business associates, which upsets many American men.
- Before visiting a foreign country, talk to people who have done business there to learn firsthand about their experiences.
- Meet with people from the country you are planning to visit. Ask them what they like and don’t like about doing business with Americans.
- Do your homework. Learn as much as you can about the culture and customs of the country you are planning to visit.