Mexico vs. Japan: The World Cup of Business

I recently read a newspaper article about World Cup football, which was great because it listed all the funny pairings of nations in various matches.  The article went into detail about various styles of play, which got me thinking about how such different countries work together. Having spent most of my career working overseas with clients and colleagues, I have witnessed firsthand the clash of culture and national mindsets in business countless times.  I’m not sure if my favorite experience was watching an American cowboy negotiate in a hot, stuffy conference room in China, or witnessing an uncomfortable Japanese businessman communicate with the articulate and direct English in London.

The fact of the matter is, when you are working abroad or at least doing commerce with an overseas firm, it’s essential that you study the culture a bit to know what to expect.  This research does not need to be worthy of a Ph.D., just enough to know what sorts of values and styles to expect. Of course, the more you will be interacting with businesses in other countries, the more you will want to learn.

If you were to do business in the United States, for example, you would want to make sure you are on-time to your meeting at the very least.  American business people live according to their Outlook diaries and infringing on one timeslot or another can cause a great deal of disruption.  There is even this thing called a ‘5 minute rule,’ which is a humorous joke in offices that means a meeting is automatically cancelled if the meeting host fails to show up in the first five minutes.  In other parts of the world, you may wait hours for the host to arrive and are expected to sit and wait.  In short, the business environment is vastly different in different countries.

I recently stumbled on this list of different business styles in Global Business Negotiations, which helps portray some of these differences.

-English negotiators are very formal and polite and place great importance on proper protocol.  They are also concerned with proper etiquette

-The French expect others to behave as they do when conducting business.  This includes speaking the French language.

-Protocol is important and formal in Germany.  Dress is conservative; correct posture and manners are required.  Seriousness of purpose goes hand in hand with serious dress.

-The Swedes tend to be formal in their relationships; dislike haggling over price; expect thorough, professional proposals without flaws; and are attracted to quality.

-Italians tend to be extremely hospitable but are often volatile in temperament.  When they make a point, they do so with considerable gesticulation and emotional expression.

-The Japanese often want to spend days or even weeks creating a friendly, trusting atmosphere before discussing business.

-In China, the protocol followed during the negotiation process should include giving small, inexpensive presents.  As the Chinese do not like to be touched, a short bow and a brief handshake are used during the introductions.

-Business is conducted in a formal yet relaxed manner in India.  Having connections is important and one should request permission before smoking, entering or sitting.

-Emotion and drama carry more weight than logic does for Mexicans.  Mexican negotiators are often selected for their skill at rhetoric and for their ability to make distinguished performances.

-For Brazilians, the negotiating process is often valued more than the end result.  Discussions tend to be lively, heated, inviting, eloquent, and witty. Brazilians enjoy lavish hospitality to establish a comfortable social climate.

 Taken from Global Business Negotiations by Claude Cellich and Subhash Jain, pg 31.

These are, of course, generalizations, but my own experience has confirmed many descriptions on this list.  And while the image of a Mexican company working alongside a Japanese company may sound amusing, the reality is we are working in a global business environment.  Understanding the other side in business before you begin is very similar to preparing for a football match between two nations during the World Cup. Just as with sport, in business you want to understand the style and approach of the other team to make sure you are successful.

Do you have any good example of culture clash in business?

For more on doing business abroad, you can read our post 5 Tips for Leading Your Overseas Employees.

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