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.Posted by: CNN Correspondent, Robyn Curnow