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Curb Your Enthusiasm: Primer in Managing Cultural Cues

Respect is a two-way street – you have to give to get

Some people love putting their personal wealth on public display. Driving up in a performance car can electrify prospects in Miami, Monte Carlo and Dubai. But ostentation can easily send the wrong message in the Netherlands, Sweden and other egalitarian societies.

Qualities like compassion, courage and loyalty are almost universally admired. But other characteristics, like stoicism, are highly respected in many parts of Asia. Just ask any OB/GYN who has delivered babies for Hmong or Japanese women. Doctors get caught unaware that the baby is coming because during labor, the mothers don’t complain about the pain. Want to be respected in Japan? Be intelligent, humble, thoughtful, a good sport and never whine.

Along with cultivating qualities that are appreciated in different cultures, it is important to avoid behaviors that are considered unproductive or insulting. Here are a few traits that international executives and managers commonly mention when asked “What do you think of businesspeople from the US?”

 You’re Impatient

You think time is money. You jump into business discussions before introductions are even done. You try to close deals in one visit. You talk so fast we don’t have time to translate and process the data.


Impatience can be off-putting anywhere, but many cultures have longer orientations towards time and relationships. In Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia, a first visit is often just to build a personal relationship. Even if it is just a phone call or a Skype meeting, the effort will be well worth it. And English-speakers should slow down, enunciate and avoid jargon in business meetings.

You’re Blunt

You’re very direct and always think honesty is the best policy. You expect a “yes or no” answer all the time. We don’t want to hurt your feelings or embarrass you, so we say “it’s difficult” or “perhaps we can consider this at our next meeting.” That means no! 

Diplomacy is held in high regard in many cultures. Subtle, indirect answers are common in India, Japan, Malaysia and many other countries. Being forced to deliver bad news personally can mean the end of the relationship – and the deal.

You Dislike Silence

If there’s an instant of silence, you seem compelled to talk. You answer your own questions before we’ve had a chance to respond. Conference calls are filled with interruptions and overlapping conversations. 

Pausing for 5 to 10 seconds between questions and answers can be a sign of respect, and does not signify consent or disagreement. If possible, assign a “moderator” on conference calls. In face-to-face meetings, learn to sit and wait quietly – count 5, 10, or even 15 seconds before you respond. Listen, don’t talk.

You’re Loud

We hear you everywhere – in offices, down hallways, in restaurants, across the street. 

Modulate the volume of your voice. At a café in Paris, the people at the next table should not be able to hear you. Also, try to speak in a lower register. There’s substantial evidence that lower, deeper voices communicate authority and honesty.  

You’re Independent

You don’t consult anyone else. You make decisions on your own.

In contrast, Chinese or South Korean individuals will generally abide by the consensus of the collective group – even if he or she personally disagrees with that decision. One might argue that depending upon the circumstances, the attributes above may be perceived as assets. But if you want to leave a positive impression during your travels, at least listen to your international associates’ viewpoints, adapt a bit and earn some respect.  

Terri Morrison’s books have sold over 475,000 copies.  She is a speaker and author of ten books, including Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands The Bestselling Guide to Doing Business in More Than Sixty Countries (one of Inc. Magazine’s “7 Best Books on How to Negotiate!”) and her newest book  Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands®: Courtrooms to Corporate Counsels! For information on her books, speaking engagements, and Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands® Digital product.

Visit – e-mail, call 610.742.5359, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram  @KissBowAuthor