Monday, April 28, 2014

Task before relationship or relationship before task?

Task before relationship or relationship before task?

In the era of global business, cultural insensitivity is not only foolish, it’s expensive. We may hide behind the notion that “business is business” the world over but in an increasingly crowded marketplace, the seller who doesn’t understand how his or her customers think doesn’t stand a chance.

A tight schedule

Mr. Abu Bakar: Mr. Müller, how good to see you.
Mr. Müller:        Nice to see you again, Hassan.

Mr. Abu Bakar: Tell me, how have you been?
Mr. Müller:        Very well, thank you. And you?

Mr. Abu Bakar:  Fine, fine. Allah be praised.
Mr. Müller:         I really appreciate your agreeing to see me about these
                         distribution arrangements.
Mr. Abu Bakar:  My pleasure. So tell me: how was your trip? Did you
                         come direct or did you have a stopover?
Mr. Müller:         No stopover this time. I’m on a tight schedule. That’s why I’m so grateful you could see me on such short notice.

Mr. Abu Bakar:  Not at all. How is my good friend, Mr. Wilson?
Mr. Müller:        Oh, fine, fine. He’s been very busy with this distribution
                         problem also.
Mr. Abu Bakar: You know, you have come at an excellent time. Tomorrow
                         Is the Prophet’s birthday – blessings and peace be upon Him –
                         and we’re having a special feast at my home. I’d like you to be
                         our guest.
Mr. Müller:        Thank you very much. Now about these plans ……. ?

Mr. Müller has a rather narrow notion of what one talks about at a “business meeting”. He tries to come right to the point – the question of the distribution arrangements. Mr. Abu Bakar seems to be more interested in the social side of things  - there’s more to meetings than doing business. For him, after all, building strong personal rapport with partners is the essential foundation for a successful business undertaking.

From Mr. Müller’s point of view, business is business and should not be mixed with socializing activities. From the Arab point of view though, a firm distinction between the professional and the personal is unnatural. An increase in cultural sensitivity and change in attitudes on both sides will certainly help to alleviate a potential conflict from further escalating.