I believe that to be effective in international markets, it is vital to first know your own business culture. Most of my fellow Americans tend to believe that living and working in the American business culture by rights makes us experts. But it doesn’t. Only when we leave our culture and bump up against the business culture norms of other places do we begin to understand what makes our perspective different.
Canadian-American trade is the largest bilateral trade relationship in the world. I’ve written these tips with Canadian businesses in mind. In working with Americans, here are a few cultural tips I can give to make your interactions more effective:
Americans have a special relationship to time
In American business, there is a profound focus on completing tasks as quickly as possible. We have an expression: “Time is Money”. It’s the idea that if we save time, there is automatically a value associated with that time savings. Oftentimes that is true.
There’s even a movement which originated in Silicon Valley called “growth hacking,” or trying to speed up the process of finding new qualified sales leads. While there are sometimes time-saving shortcuts, most of us understand that success comes down to hard work and consistency.
But for other cultures, Americans can seem rushed.
This can lead to the misinterpretation that Americans often don’t understand the trust-building process that genuinely requires time to establish. It can also create an air of suspicion about why the deal needs to be signed so quickly.
My advice to Canadians and others feeling rushed is to confront their American counterpart with the value of what is being overlooked – quality, trust, risk management, etc. Discuss the costs of the relationship failing or needing to replace an implemented system. Faster is not always better.
Silence is the enemy during international negotiations
Americans in business are very uncomfortable with silence. If you stop talking mid-conversation, your American counterpart will be at a compete loss for what to do next.
In Asia, this is often used as a negotiation tactic against Americans. They know that because Americans are desperate to get conversation flowing again, they will start giving away concessions in the negotiated deal. When there’s an extended silence the American normally assumes that they have said something that has not been well received and are trying to return to a state of acceptance.
By the way, silence is a tactic that I have seen work similarly on Israelis too.
Prepare yourself for friendliness on steroids
Canadians only need to visit an American department store to see friendliness used as a business tool. A store sales clerk will likely follow you around asking if you need help. In fact, it is often asked several times in the same store. This overt “friendliness” can be unnerving to international guests to the U.S., but it is a great example of friendliness in business.
Americans are taught from a young age that confidence and friendliness are traits they should cultivate.
This American openness is often appreciated in business settings, at least initially. But it can run the risk of being seen as insincere, especially when Americans talk about “getting together” and then don’t follow through on the expectation they set.
In working with Americans, it is important to set an appointment to follow through on action discussed. And if you trying to sell to American companies, be prepared to follow up with the company’s staff several times to move a step of your selling process forward.
I hope these insights help you to effectively engage and build strong relationships with American business people. If you have a particular situation related to cross-cultural communications and need advice, please feel free to contact me at: info@The-International-Entrepreneur.com.
Best wishes in all of your international business dealings!