Lee Greif: Knowing When 'yes' Means 'no' in Business.

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Understanding cultural nuances is part of doing business anywhere in the world. I recently spoke with J.J Ngulube, the CEO of Munich Reinsurance Africa operations, about communicating across cultures.

This is our conversation about how he, as a Zimbabwean, does business with fellow Africans across the continent.

J.J Ngulube: There's a lot of unwritten business rules and this varies from West Africa to East Africa even within.

Robyn Curnow: Like what?

JN: How you communicate. For example when somebody says 'yes.' When a West African says 'yes' you have to understand what that means.

RC: What does it mean?

JN: Is it 'yes I hear what you are saying?' Is it 'yes I agree?' Or is it 'yes I'm politely agreeing but I'm not happy with what you're saying' ?

RC: So, it basically means no?

JN: Exactly. So even that 'yes,' you have to be able to interpret and body language is everything. It's so easy for a non-African to go away thinking 'I met those guys and they agreed with everything I said.'

This exchange is a wonderful description of the perils of doing business in a foreign land where language and cultural barriers can make all parties feel very confused about the outcome of a conversation.

Have you ever walked out of meeting thinking you had achieved one thing and realized later that you had agreed to something completely different?

I would love to hear your stories.

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This page contains a single entry by Lee Greif published on July 21, 2010 12:12 PM.

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