The Colorado Rockies are in the World Series. It’s a time of joy for Rockies’ fans and all of Colorado.
While we all can and should enjoy the celebration of our local heroes, think about how other cultures and countries might perceive our enthusiasm. Such knowledge is useful to the international negotiator, as it will help you to connect better with your foreign business associates.
Europeans jest that the United States is the only country in the world that refers to a national sporting championship as “The World Series.” Simply being aware of this will help American business people bond with their European counterparts. And if you’re the first to point out this cultural nuance, you’ll get kudos from the people on the other side of the table. “The Super Bowl” is a much less ethnocentric term.
American ethnocentrism often is greeted with contempt and dismissal. In the minds of Europeans, no one country could possibly be as fabulous and incredible as the United States likes to present itself.
In business, Americans like to pepper their marketing lingo with ethnocentrism and extremes. “World’s greatest car,” “king of all beers,” “the number one golf club (which doesn’t mean best-selling)” “the purest, the best, the most amazing … ”
But when Europeans and Asians hear this language, they often dismiss it as American extremism and exaggeration. The lesson? If you down play many of these extremes, it will ingratiate you further with your foreign counterparts. They’ll see you as less excessive and more realistic.
If you look at how some of our overseas competitors advertise their products, you will see slogans (translated) such as: “The Driver’s Car,” (Germany); “One day, you won’t drink a beer, you’ll drink a Grolsch” (The Netherlands); “It’s simply just a good wine” (France); and “when you are friends, you have Meiji milk” (Japan). Notice how much subtler these slogans are when compared to: the biggest, the best, and the greatest.
We are slaves to our history and culture. Thus we’re often tainted with our own successes and interpretations when we head into overseas negotiations. Our counterparts are prepared for us to ramble on and on about our successes, and how brilliant our management is.
There are ways to avoid falling into this trap. One way to differentiate yourself is to use such phrases as:
• “This is our way of handling this situation. What is your way?”
• “This is why our customers buy from us. Why do yours buy from you?”
Framing your dialogue this way once again will distinguish you from the “world’s greatest business people” who head overseas.
Another example of American ethnocentrism is how we describe a business or business unit. Companies often use dollar figures to demonstrate success: “We did $100 million in Asia last year.”
Europeans would rather hear how many people you have employed in Europe in the last year. “We are 125 people now” would be the Swedish way of presenting success. Additionally, if one has to bring up sales figures, it’s better to do it in the local currency, as many business deals outside the United States are transacted in Euros.
“Wall Street sneezes and Europe gets a cold” goes the old expression. This is true. The U.S. financial markets have a large influence on currency fluctuations and market capitalizations abroad. However, that doesn’t mean that if American business is bad, then all business is bad. Remember that one of the reasons Europe and Asia react to Wall Street is due to the foreign investment in the U.S. market.
Be aware there’s a lot of international investment in the U.S. stock market, and the same is true for stock markets in London, Frankfurt, Tokyo, Warsaw, etc.
American humor will rescue you in a difficult situation. Americans love to joke about things they don’t understand. We make fun of every country, and we make fun of ourselves. While the humor itself will rarely translate, this genre of poking fun at oneself is an advantage overseas, especially since the American mentality is the subject of many jokes. Being able to joke about one’s own culture, and not be offended at the thoughts of others, are necessary tools for any business person.
Add a genuine inquisitiveness about the country or culture you’re visiting, and you will measure up to — or even exceed — many of your competitors, be they foreign or domestic.
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