International Business – cultural mistakes

31 10 2006

Good advice for international travellers, on how to avoid being seen as the “ugly American”.   Are you the ugly American by Erin Richards, Budget Travel.

Remember that every action, comment, reaction, criticism and gesture is being watched and evaluated by your hosts, counterparts and clients when you are in their country.

Look for and work to find the similarities in your cultures and interests.

Humility and and stopping to think before acting will go a long way toward improving your relationships and international cultural and social skills.

Related Links

Cultural Misunderstanding- it can happen to you

International Business Tips

Great International Business Trip Results

16 Essential questions – the international business traveller’s quiz

Lessons in international business

Stereotypes and global business

Are you the ugly American

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Great International Business Trip Results

16 10 2006

In any international relationship communication and understanding are critical for success.

Problems created by; language, stereotypes, misinformation, lack of information, and cultural misunderstandings combine with normal business problems to create a complicated scenario for anyone involved in international relationships and global business.

Prepare your international meetings and business presentations using the following questions as a guide to organize your ideas and focus on actions that will produce positive results for everyone involved.

6 Questions – Create Great International Business Trip Results

  1. What does this organization know about me, my company and my country?
  2. What do they think they know about me?
  3. What can I tell them that they do not know?
  4. What do I know about my international partner, culture and country?
  5. What do I think I know about this business, culture and country?
  6. What can they tell me that I do not know?

1. What does this organization know about me and my company. When you walk in the room an opinion has already been formed about you, your organization, and your ability to perform in the future. These ideas are based upon facts, information and past experience.

  • What has been the history of our relationship in their country?
  • Who has been involved in our mutual business, and why?
  • What promises have been made and kept by both?
  • What promises have been made and not delivered upon?
  • What have the major problems and success been in the past?
  • Press and media, our organizations promotional material.

2. What do they think they know about me. Clarifying the unknowns or presumed realities in a relationship is crucial to success. These ideas may be very damaging and limit your ability to trust one another. What stereotypical behaviour can you avoid or prevent? What can you clarify or refute through information or actions?

  • Behaviour and reacts based upon past experience with your organization.
  • Rumour and innuendo, press and media reports.
  • Negotiation styles.
  • Business objectives.
  • Behaviour, goals and methods of doing business based upon country and cultural stereotypes.

3. What can I tell them that they do not know. Today’s business world requires trust, information and solutions. Reinforcing your need to work with your international partner, providing important information or solutions, and clarifying misunderstandings can only help the relationship.

  • Clarify or destroy cultural stereotypes.
  • Clarify business objectives and why they are important in order to reach these objectives.
  • Provide solutions and alternatives to existing situations and challenges.
  • Provide information of value for their business and strategy.
  • Clearly identify current or potential business problems.
  • Predict and have answers ready for their questions.

4. What do I know about my International partner, culture and country? What do I know is true and not innuendo or interpretation? The numbers, facts, information, agreements and past performance history of the business. Information about the country and the business culture.

5. What do I think I know about this business, culture and country? What preconceived ideas and stereotypes are you working with? What are you assuming and what has been proven?

6. What can they tell me that I do not know? What questions do you need to ask in order to verify information or create plans. What pieces of your information puzzle are missing? This is the time to get your questions answered, what are they?

Related Links

Cultural misunderstanding it can happen to you

Stereotypes and global business

Create great international business relationships

16 Essential questions – the international business traveller’s quiz

Lessons in international business





Showtime – how do you want to live your life?

8 09 2006

I’ve had limited experience in show business. The highlights of my entertainment career include the magic show I produced and starred in at age 8, various band performances, and a walk-on supporting role as a wise man in a Nativity play. Oh wait, I forgot to mention, my biggest show business role. I was involved in retail sales.

Retail sales can be a limiting and brutal environment, physically and emotionally. But it is one of the best environments for learning and practicing how to perform with and for others.

Retail sales is all about people, it is not about merchandise. Listening to what people want and helping them find it. You are performing all day, and when you realize this, it can be an exhilarating and fun experience. You can prepare, rehearse and modify your performances daily.

What am I talking about? Performing? Exactly. If you assume the role of an enthusiastic, informed and helpful person you can give something to each person you encounter during the day. You will feel great about yourself and the client or co-worker walks away with an unexpected gift of meeting and connecting with a positive human experience.

I was involved in the fresh flower industry. Olga and I opened a “bucket-shop”, which at the time was an innovation, and dedicated ourselves to making every customers experience distinct and important.

No one buys flowers because they have to. They are sought when one wishes to celebrate a birthday, anniversary, birth of child, graduation, religious holiday, or wedding. They might be using the flowers to recognize an illness or death, as a thank you, to recognize a special person, to say I love you or I’m sorry, or as a emotional pick me up.

Flowers are objects that represent an emotion. Customers were not buying flowers. They were seeking a symbol of their feelings or the feelings they wished to transmit. Isn’t that true about most consumer items?

Understanding this, how can you NOT be enthusiastic about coming to work and giving your best performance?

During the time clients were in our environment, we were part of their search to represent their emotions, our advice was of great importance in order to find the right symbol, the perfect flowers. It was much more than a commodity transaction.

It’s important to recognize that false enthusiasm isn’t going to work. You have to believe in yourself, your abilities and knowledge. You have to believe that you are going on-stage everyday, and that your “performance” has to be genuine. You have to listen to the people around you, and determine what they are really seeking, and help them get it.

People used to stop in and visit us to get a shot of enthusiasm and positive attitude. There was always a smile, a greeting. The environment was light, fun, open, accepting. It was an amazing experience for us and for the clients. We gave a positive attitude, and customers gave us back more positive attitude.

All it took was our dedication to providing the best “performance” we could manage, everyday, no matter who was in the audience.

It’s “showtime” in your life every morning (remember Rob Schneider’s performance in “All that Jazz”?). It’s your decision to assume the role you are going to play. Will it be the angry, grumpy, distracted, negative you? Will it be the upbeat, enthusiastic, focused you?

It’s “showtime” right now.

It’s always “showtime”.

Related Links

Change your life – change your attitude

Passion – Enthusiasm – Common Sense?

Motivation, what gets you out of bed?





Advice on what to expect when doing business with Mexico

4 09 2006

Advice on what to expect when doing business with Mexico and Mexicans.

1. It is difficult to reach the top executives and business owners. The first contacts are difficult or impossible to make through “cold calling”. A much better strategy is to get personal introductions from consultants or other local business people.

2. Mexico is all about personal networks. They prefer to do business “face to face”. Impersonal methods of communication will be used, but plan on meeting your clients or suppliers as often as possible in order to maintain good relations and communications.

2. Use metric measurements, forget all other systems. Inches, pounds, feet, yards are not part of the Mexican culture. This is especially true for your promotional material and catalogues.

3. Don’t expect business people will return your phone calls. If the business item is important you should call several times.

4. Business negotiations will always be preceded with small talk and light conversation. This may continue for some time before business is finally discussed. Dinners and lunches are important for negotiations and often the items of real importance surface over coffee and dessert.

5. Proper etiquette and manners are very important. You will find the Mexicans are very cordial and polite, and they expect the same treatment from others. This is true for business and social occasions.

6. Secretaries and personal assistants are very important. They control who has access to executives and decision-makers. Many times they are responsible for answering the executive’s email and correspondence. Never underestimate the power of the secretary, and always maintain a friendly cordial relationship with them.

7. Meetings don’t start, or end on time. Don’t come late, but don’t get angry or upset when it doesn’t happen at the appointed hour.

8. The entire country shuts down from December 15 until about January 3 for vacations. Do not expect to find decision-makers in their offices, and expect slowdowns in logistics, paperwork and other communications during this time.

9. Everyone has a cellular phone. Get the cellular phone numbers of your contacts to avoid the filters in place at the office.

10. Mexicans tend to be reserved with foreign business people in the first business encounters. Business in Mexico is based upon trust between people. Take the time to create a relationship and build trust with your clients and suppliers. Don’t be in a hurry to close the deal. Don’t be in a rush to get the business over with. Don’t be afraid to visit several times without a specific work agenda. Get to know the people and culture.

11. Mexicans don’t like to disappoint others, and may prolong and delay bad news until the last possible moment. This can be prevented by establishing many short term objectives and chronologies. Constant open communication will also provide opportunities to discuss and find solutions for any set backs before it becomes a major problem.

12. Always try and deal with the boss or top executives. Business is done, approved and maintained by the top levels in the organization. Make sure the Mexican company understands that you are your company’s top executive with important decision-making powers.

Related Links

How to negotiate with Mexican business people

Meeting people in Mexico -kiss, shake hands or hug

Before you go on your business trip to Mexico

Tip: How to call Mexico from the US

How to do business in Mexico, parts 1 – 28





How to create an international business travel destination file

31 08 2006

The international business traveller has a lot of work to do before each trip. The preparation of the journey can be complicated and usually requires quite a bit of time in order to finalize visas, appointments, hotels, transportation, and tickets and connections.

I highly recommend an international travel destination file be created and maintained for the countries and business destinations that you or your organization travels to.

This should be updated each time someone visits the destination. This important accumulated business travel information will save time, money, trouble and aggravation for everyone required to travel in the future.

Notes should be written during the trip and a final executive summary presented and filed at most 5 days after your return. This is not a personal travel diary, and should be focused on providing practical useful information for the next person who is required to visit the destination on business.

The file should contain the following information and observations:

  • Is a visa required?  Contact information for the embassy or consulate, required information that must be submitted and the time required for the process from start to finish.
  • Travel agency and airlines used. Comments and observations about flights, connections, and prices.
  • Information about hotels that you have stayed in, names, addresses, telephone and fax numbers, email. Comments about the cost, distance to clients, pros and cons. security and other observations.
  • Alternative hotels to consider for the next trip and contact information.
  • Airports, names and airport 3 digit code. What services are available at the airport, money changing, auto rental, taxis, airport taxes upon arrival or departure, how far from the city or hotel, other comments.
  • Restaurants, recommendations, places to avoid, addresses and contact information.
  • Information and comments about business manners; the way people dress, gift giving, what NOT to do, other observations.
  • Cultural tips and observations. What and when do people eat. Tipping, what is correct. What to do or where to go in your off time.
  • Weather and climate. Recommendations for how to dress and what to pack.
  • Information about average costs, hotels, meals, transportation, and other related business costs
  • Other observations: What would you do differently and why? What would make the trip better or more efficient the next time? Recommendations for the next traveller from your organization.

The institutionalization of this information will result in more efficient planning and execution of travel plans, better administration of costs and time, and more satisfaction for the international road warriors in your organization. They can dedicate their time to getting work done, and not about travel worries.

Related Links

International business traveller -ambassador, explorer, map-maker

16 Essential Questions – International Business Traveller’s Quiz

7 Tips for doing business internationally

International Business Trip Planning, Part 6

International Business Trip Planning, Part 5

International Business Trip Planning, Part 4





Meeting people in Mexico – kiss, shake hands or hug?

22 08 2006

What is the correct method to greet a business acquaintance in Mexico?

For a first time meeting with a business contact in Mexico a handshake is the appropriate greeting, eye contact is important, say your name, followed by the presentation of your business card. This applies to men and women.

When leaving the meeting or event it is appropriate and expected to shake everyone’s hand and say goodbye individually. This is also true for social situations.

If the business relationship has developed over time, you may find that upon arrival your host will hug you (un abrazo), giving 2 or 3 firm slaps on your back, followed by a handshake. This is a sign of confidence and friendship. This is also used when saying goodbye, especially when leaving on a trip, or when you will be separated for a long time.

Greeting women is a bit more complex. In developed relationships or personal relationships, an “air kiss” is common and expected. This is a swift encounter, cheek to cheek, and only on one side of the face. It may also be accompanied by a handshake. This greeting is common between women.

A man should always rise from his chair whenever a woman arrives at the table or is introduced.

My advice is to avoid the “air kiss” until you are approached, and it is obvious that the woman (or man) is comfortable with the kiss greeting. A handshake is the appropriate and “safe” greeting for all business and personal situations with women.

The kiss has no sexual connotations, it is a greeting of familiarity, but until you feel comfortable with it, and understand it’s use, best to be conservative and put your hand out.

Watch how others Mexicans greet one another. Learn to distinguish the differences in how business people, workers, friends, and family have different greetings.