Sitting in Lufthansa’s business lounge at the Frankfurt airport yesterday, I couldn’t help but overhear my neighbors: tables and tables of business folks, all speaking different languages, and using Frankfurt as a gateway to far flung destinations.
And so, it was fitting that I spotted an article in the March 9th issue of the International Herald Tribune about how cross cultural understanding is the KEY to international business success. Tanya Mohn gave several good examples–my favorite being about how a British proposal to an American firm fell flat because it began by listing all the pitfalls and risks. While the Brits thought they were doing a good job of disclosing the downside, their approach turned off the American clients. Resubmitting the proposal with a positive spin clinched the deal.
In the Frankfurt business lounge I heard Russians negotiating with Aussies, and Italians speaking to Germans, to name a few. Somehow we expect cultural business differences to arise between those folks–after all, they don’t speak the same native language–but not between Americans and British. However, yesterday’s article proved to the contrary. For a business payoff across cultures, you must know the other side’s cultural outlook–even if you both speak the same native tongue.