Learn the Language


If you are going to spend a year or more in a country—definitely, absolutely, do your utmost to learn the language. It will make a tremendous difference to your state of mind. Ability to understand the local language seems to play a major role in adjustment to culture shock and personal success in a foreign world.

It is not clear why speaking the language makes such a big difference, but it does. Obviously it makes getting around a lot easier. In hundreds of moments of struggling to get something done, from shopping to household repairs to getting directions, just knowing some of the language removes huge portions of aggravation and helps you gain a sense of safety and self-assurance. When people around you are babbling away in a foreign language, you become vaguely insecure and feel isolated. Knowing the language gives you a sense of mastery in situations where you may feel vulnerable.

The more process of learning the language gets you more in tune with the culture, and breaks the ice, putting you in the right frame of mind to adjust. In some places, speaking a second language is important to enhance your image as a well-bred, educated person—you may be somewhat better off if the language you learn is not the language spoken in the country.

The frequent traveler should think about learning languages too, of course, depending on the amount of travel and bilingualism of the business community. Speaking a language fluently can permit you to attain levels of relationship and business advantage unattainably by someone who doesn’t.

Fluency in the language will allow the traveler into otherwise exclusive realms of local business. The process of negotiation often depends on behind-the-scenes information flow.

Learning the language is no substitute for learning the culture and appropriate behavior. People who are fluent in a language but not sensitive to the culture can make worse mistakes, perhaps because the local experts more of them. And there are dangers in speaking a language if you are not competent in it. Not knowing the nuances of words or being careless with intonations, you might say things you don’t mean. In most languages, some common words have extremely vulgar meanings if pronounced incorrectly. Or you may hear unintended meanings.

If you don’t speak the language well, it is best to reveal that you have made the effort to learn—but then rely on English or an interpreter. Experts advise that is generally best to speak the language for socializing and daily activities, but not when transacting business. As a rule of thumb, if you are not fluent and your foreign counterpart does not speak fluent English, always transact business with an interpreter. Traders who meet frequently with foreigners say that while English is the business language around the world, buyers are far more comfortable talking in their native language, and even if they can speak English, it is often better to have an interpreter. They don’t have to struggle so hard, and it puts them at ease.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

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Problems of Conduct


In Japan’s early history, a serious disregard for manners could be punishable by death, and any samurai could kill any common person who failed to show him proper respect. The Japanese were required to behave in precisely prescribed ways—wearing permitted clothing, walking only a certain way, sleeping with their heads pointing in a certain direction and legs arranged a particular way. Eating, greeting, gesturing with hands, opening doors and many work tasks had to be done in assigned ways without deviation. Conduct became a measure of morality, and virtue in manners was visible for all to see. Even today, the code of conduct plays a significant role in the lives of the Japanese. Many societies, not Japan alone, have a prescribed form and manner for every familiar situation that might arise. Unforeseen situations can cause intense embarrassment or discomfort. Throughout East Asia, actions are judged by the manner in which they are performed. More important than the accomplishment of a task is the question of how someone went about trying to complete the task: Did he act sincerely? More important than winning the race is the grace of the runner. More important than expertise is the way one gets along with others. More important than profits is harmony. In contrast, Westerners and particularly Americans are more concerned with the principles of things, hard “measures” and objective facts. Although rules of ethics are extremely important, we are more goal oriented than method-conscious, we say “a good loser is a loser.”

One aspect of form is the concept of “face.” Much has been written about “face-saving” in Japan and China, but face-saving is important absolutely everywhere. The difference is only a matter of degree and nuance. Where an American might feel a little guilty or inadequate, an Asian, Arab or South American may feel deep shame and humiliation. What an American might see as a little honest and constructive criticism, the foreigner may take as a devastating blow to pride and dignity. A foreigner is likely to be sensitive to feelings of others in transactions that an American would consider strictly impersonal, such as returning a defective product or switching hairdressers. The traveler simply must be more conscious of saying things or behaving in ways that cannot be taken as disrespect, criticism or humiliation. In some countries it seems just about anything can be taken personally, even such indirect affronts as not taking your shoes off in a mosque or complaining about the heat.

Harmony with the environment can be as important as sensitivity to people in some cultures. In Japan a woman wears a soft pastel dress to a flower show so as not to take away from the beauty of the flowers. In countries where people believe in reincarnation they are careful about all forms of life. In India, for example, people are careful not to swallow gnats or step on ants—one might be a relative.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Lectures, Line of Sight.

The Blue-sky Laws


Government regulation and intervention is very pervasive in our daily lives, especially in business activities. That intervention is both supportive and restrictive. Also, it is constantly changing. The intent of government is generally to provide justice, orderliness, and fairness. A realistic observer may also perceive a governmental desire to play Robin Hood. Some entrepreneurs will find themselves the objects of Robin’s beneficence. Most owner-managers see too much of his ever-present Merry Men.

Entrepreneurs usually don’t concern themselves much with the creation and enforcement of government regulations. Being realistic, they just want to know the rules. They ask how it works and then go on about the business of building their enterprise. Because entrepreneurs need all the help they can get, they will use the rules and regulations that can in any way help the business. If the rules are not helpful they will avoid getting into a position where the rules interfere with the progress of the business. The problem for entrepreneurs is that the regulatory bureaucracy is so massive and complex that they have trouble understanding the rules.

The specialists who devote their professional lives to understanding rules and providing guidance to the rest of us must concentrate on a small segment of the rules to be able to keep up with the changes and the latest nuances in interpretation. This results in the need for many specialists. Despite the burden on time and financial resources, however, it is most prudent to obtain sufficient advice and guidance at least to avoid the wrath and interference of the regulators.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

Consumers of Advertising


It is vital, from the outset, to guard against the normal psychological tendency to impose your advertising “pattern” on a rather complex reality. Consider, for example, that the advertisements you may encounter through television, radio, the campus newspaper, magazines, direct mail, billboards, and the like are only a fraction of all the forms that advertising takes in other places in other times, for different purposes, and among different audiences. Yet, there is a tendency to equate that fragmented reality with the whole. Advertising is bad (good) for children; advertising is good (bad) for the economy; advertising helps us make wise (unwise) purchase decisions; advertising makes goods cost more (less); and so on. Simply, some advertising may be (or do) any of these things. All advertising is however far too complex to permit such over-simplifications.

By way of further example, one of the frequently voiced complaints of advertising critics is that advertising is not informative enough. Now, if we wish to point to some specific advertisements, it would not be difficult to accept such a premise. An advertisement for an expensive car may tell us that the car offers greater “class” than its competitors but nothing of its performance or life expectancy. Or a message for a cereal may feature a talking tiger, telling us of his adventures, but little of nutrition.

But there is other grist for this mill as well. A classified ad for a refrigerator may tell us its make, age, capacity, operating efficiency, and the reasons the seller has put it on the market. A message on drill bits for all rigs inundates its readers with performance data concerning the cost efficiencies to be accrued through the use of this bit compared with those of traditional composition. Do these ads also lack information?

To understand advertising then, you must first develop some knowledge of its more prominent functions. One way of getting a realistic picture of the landscape of advertising is to ask a simple question: Who uses advertising to reach what audiences through what media for what purpose? The pursuit of the answer not, of course, reveals all the nuances of advertising. It may, however, after a reasonable of some of the major species and subspecies and—not incidentally—serve to discourage embracing, “Advertising does …” thinking.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight