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”.

 

 

Today’s Spring Break

Today’s Spring Break

This spring, I wanted Michael Czinkota’s students to remember their “Marketing Across Borders” class while they traveled to azure beaches and Caribbean getaways. They were to connect their break experiences to some of the themes we have explored in class. Their responses offered an interesting – and illuminating – glimpse into how international marketing shapes the decisions of young travelers.

As digital natives, most of my students performed the research and planning for their trips online. Whether scoring cheaper flights or finding top restaurants, these young travelers turned to social media platforms and travel websites like AirBnb and TripAdvisor, to find affordable, and often all-inclusive, deals for hotels and flights. Students noted the power of word of mouth, which they far preferred over mass-market pamphlets, in guiding travel decisions. Much trust was placed in the reviews of peer travelers.

Much international travel was to Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Germany.

But even when my students ventured outside their comfort zones, they still encountered elements of the familiar. They noted the prevalence of Japanese manufactured cars, such as Toyota, in countries like Mexico and Jamaica. For food, they found a preponderance of American brands – like McDonalds and Starbucks – that were almost identical to those in Cincinnati, Ohio.

A student, involved in a social justice immersion trip to Jamaica, found international marketing to be an important tool in business development. She found billboards with emotional global brand messages: “Kakoo loves Pepsi!”; “Jamaica, land we love; Honda, car we love.” Many messages were targeted toward tourists and rendered in English rather than local languages.

In terms of favorite topics, many of my students’ broached food. There was a fascination with the globalization of food products. Students were delighted to taste the delicious meals of the world. “Food trends from around the world had penetrated the Costa Rican market: Breakfast places were serving cold brewed ice coffee, kombucha, acai bowls, avocado toast, and homemade vegan bread. Australians own the best taco joint in Tamarindo. A woman from Minnesota was the chef at a local breakfast café. Markets served poke bowls (sushi bowls from Hawaii), arepas (shredded beef sandwiches from Venezuela), and traditional French pastries.”

Students saw a choice of goods that were produced in the U.S. but tasted differently abroad. In the Dominican Republic, there were different taste versions of Coca Cola. Snacks of choice, such as Doritos, were sold at two different prices depending on whether they were sold in American or Mexican packaging. In Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, the point of sale changed in supermarkets. Oreos were sold alongside American cereals rather than in the cookie section!

All these observations contribute to a wider understanding of international marketing forces that shape tourism for young travelers today. Travel can be good – it gives more perspective, more context and more variety. Surely, there will be more alternatives and new experiences, which make life more meaningful, spicy and more interesting.

Michael Czinkota teaches international business and trade at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and the University of Kent. His key book (with Ilkka Ronkainen) is “International Marketing” (10th ed., CENGAGE).

Georgetown University students, Dina El-Saharty and Lisa Burgoa, contributed to this report.