"The New International Manager" by Vincent Guy and John Mattock (Kogan Page, 172 pages, £16.95).
Review by Francis Kinsman.
The word "foreign" derives from the Latin foris, "outside". So who are these outsiders, and what makes them tick? Does it matter anyway, since they are outsiders by definition? Like hell it does, if you are a manager with any kind of international dimension to your job.
Canning International Management Development has been teaching business English for 25 years and has had 45,000 "outsiders" through its hands. It has thereby acquired an impressive databank on how to reconcile the national differences that divide us all. Now two of its most experienced practitioners have spilled the said beans with a generous hand.
The cross-cultural divide has been around since the Tower of Babel and continues to be a problem for international management. Because English is the language not only of business and computing but also of the global media, we might seem to be well placed. But Shakespeare does not actually rule in the big, wide, competitive world. We Brits have to learn a whole new lingua franca - what the book calls offshore English, a very different mode of expression to the language that we use among ourselves.
If three continentals are talking together in what they consider to be English, and a real Englishman bursts in on the meeting (rather late) with friendly badinage dressed in incomprehensible jargon, what ensues is quite likely to be chaos. Anglo-Saxons still rely on the Imperial system of communication - talk loudly, colloquially, and carry a big stick. Internationally, it is better to talk firmly and to emphasise the key words, as you would do with a deaf aunt.
The authors also emphasise that native speakers of English must know and avoid those words with subtle dissimilarities in another language. Important in French, for example, means "large", so if you are talking about a small but vital point in the contract a Frenchman could easily be confused. "Actually" is too close for comfort to the German "aktuell" which means "currently". Both German and French speakers often take "eventually" to mean "possibly". And to the French, "benefit" is so similar to "benefice" that it is often mistranslated as "profit". The book has an invaluable glossary of such confusing terminology.
Without such information, damaging misunderstandings can all too easily happen. There are vast cultural differences too. If you vast going to win you have to understand the rules. Do you know how to make a good first impression when dealing with a German or Swiss client? To speak their language? No. To dress carefully? No. It is to be on time. Five minutes late and you might as well take the next flight home.
The success of the new international manager depends on compromise, sensitivity, and an ability to put other people at their ease in relation to the way in which they usually like to behave. Which is not always the way we like to behave ourselves. So if your Ghanaian agent, when greeting you at the airport, stands very close and holds your hand for an eternity, do not cringe away. If you do he will be deeply offended.
And when negotiating with the Japanese, remember it is the central part of the presentation which is the most important. Forget the old army technique of "Tell 'em what your going to tell 'em; tell 'em; then tell 'em what you've told 'em." In Japan you should be discursive at first, working through the views that have led up to the proposition and spending time displaying your own credentials. Then get on with the meat of it, confident that you have everyone's attention. Finally summarise, while continuing to emphasise your qualifications. Tips like these are rubies.
Be warned, however. The book is compressed to such a degree that it may have to be read three times or more before all of its messages are assimilated. But that will be hugely worth the effort for anyone engaged in international business. Anyway, it is approachably written and mercifully short.
(Francis Kinsman is author of "Millennium 2000".)