The Unspoken Truth about International Business

Language has been described as the mirror of culture. Language itself is multidimensional. This is true not only of the spoken word but also of the nonverbal language of international business.

Messages are conveyed not just by the words used, but also by how those words are spoken and through such nonverbal means as gestures, body position, and eye contact. These nonverbal actions and behaviors reveal hidden clues to culture.

Five key topics – time, space, body language, friendship patterns and business agreements – offer a starting point from which managers can begin to acquire the understanding necessary to do business in foreign countries.

Understanding national and cultural differences in the concept of time is critical for an international business manager. In many parts of the world, time is flexible and is not seen as a limited commodity; people come late to appointments or may not come at all.

In Mexico for instance, it is not unusual to show up at 1:45PM for a 1:00PM appointment. Although a late afternoon siesta cuts apart the business day, businesspeople will often be at their desks until 10 o’clock at night.

In Hong Kong, too, it is futile to set exact meeting times because getting from one place to another may take minutes or hours, depending on traffic.

Showing indignation or impatience at such behavior would astonish an Arab, Latin American, or Asian.

Perception of time also affects business negotiations. Asians and Europeans tend to be more interested in long-term partnerships, while Americans are eager for deals that will be profitable in the short term, meaning less than a year.

Individuals vary in their preferences for personal space. Arabs and Latin Americans like to stand close to people when they talk. If an American who may not be comfortable at such close range, backs away from an Arab, this might incorrectly be perceived as a negative reaction.

An interesting exercise is to compare and contrast the conversation styles of different nationalities. Northern Europeans are quite reserved in using their hands and maintain a good amount of personal space, whereas Southern Europeans involved their bodies to a far greater degree in making a point.

International body language, too, can befuddle international business relations.

For example, an American manager may after successful completion of negotiations, impulsively give a finger-and-thumb “okay” sign. In southern France, this would signify the deal was worthless, and in Japan, it would mean that a little bribe had been requested. The gesture would be grossly insulting to Brazilians.

Misunderstanding nonverbal cues can undermine international negotiations. While Eastern and Chinese negotiators usually lean back and make frequent eye contact while projecting negativity, Western negotiators usually avert their gaze for the same purpose.

In some countries, extended social acquaintance and the establishment of appropriate personal rapport are essential to conducting business. The feeling is that one should know one’s business partner on a personal level before transactions can occur.

Therefore, rushing straight to business will not be rewarded because deals are made on the basis of not only the best product or price, but also the entity or person deemed most trustworthy. Contract may be bound on handshakes, not lengthy and complex agreements – a fact that makes some, especially Western, businesspeople uneasy.

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Excerpt from Fundamentals of International Business, 3rdby Michael R. Czinkota, Ilkka A. Ronkainen, and Michael H. Moffett

Michael Czinkota (czinkotm@georgetown.edu) teaches international business and trade at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and the University of Kent. His latest book, forthcoming in October 2018, is “In Search for the Soul of International Business”.

 

 

If you haven’t seen my interview on the possible outcomes for the US-China trade deal, check it out now!

Here is a repost of my televised discussion with China Global Television Network’s Elaine Reyes on the possible outcomes for the US-China trade deal, following the agreement on May 19th. Enjoy!

Perspectives by Michael R. Czinkota on “Trump trade playbook: Growing uncertainty shifts US economic ties”

Trump administration’s trade strategy is shaking up the global economy. Quitting agreements, talks of new deals and tariffs threats. There is much to keep up with Washington’s changing economic policies.

CGTN’s Daniel Ryntjes reports.

The most recent fast-forming development is that Donald Trump has ordered a national security investigation into automotive imports. That may lead to new tariffs on vehicles from Europe, Japan, and South Korea. The Commerce Department, led by Secretary Wilbur Ross will look into cars, trucks and auto parts. He is using the national security provision in U.S. trade law known as Section 232 also being used in the steel and aluminum cases, which makes it harder to challenge at the World Trade Organization.

Dr. Derek Scissors, an economist, and scholar at the American Enterprise Institute said the administration is not geared up for central planning.

“I think parts of the administration are thinking strategically and other parts are thinking strategically in a different way and it adds up to no strategy,” Scissors said.

It’s a house divided. Peter Navarro is seen as the biggest trade hawk. He’s the Director of the White House National Trade Council and is in favor of direct and sustained confrontation.

Those with a more traditional approach to global trade include U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Director of the National Economic Council Larry Kudlow.

Dr. Scissors adds that “the United States doesn’t seem to be sure what we are trying to accomplish. So the tactics of putting China or other countries off balance and that’s worked fine. But if you don’t know what you are trying to win, then you can’t win.”

For a broader perspective, the official responsible for threatening tariffs for the purpose of renegotiating trade under former U.S. President Ronald Reagan was Michael Czinkota, now an associate professor of international business and marketing at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. He thinks tariffs are good “as a tool for attention, for really thinking through, as long as you never use them.”

He thinks the current tariff threats are just that. “I would be amazed if there would be a broad blanket implementation of tariffs.”

The U.S. has continued to send out mixed signals, but the less hawkish in the administration have aligned with China’s statements about backing away from a ‘trade war’ following meetings in Washington with President Xi’s Special Envoy Vice-Premier Liu He. China said it has agreed to further open up its markets to U.S. agricultural products while negotiations continue.