You are a credit manager at a company with strict policies prohibiting accepting gifts exceeding $25 in value from customers when, one day, a box of high-end steaks arrives at your office from a foreign business contact. And said contact is coming from a place where respect is of massive importance, and such gift-giving is seen as an industry standard. It's quite the dilemma, and it's an actual example discussed by a delegate at the 2013 Credit Congress during the educational session on “International Business Ethics.”
Session speaker Pam Thomas, of Cognisant Training Limited in the United Kingdom, responded to the scenario noting that, in parts of Asian and Latin American, the sending of such a gift is the ultimate “token of respect and friendship" and an important part of how those cultures conduct business. “Sometimes it would be almost disrespectful to return it...even if, in the United States, it may seem like a bribe." Such scenarios render open communication so important, which is also difficult with language barriers in play. Even someone from another country who speaks your language fairly well might not understand the slang and nuances or that typical, friendly conversation and business-speak in a language can be very different.”
“We say things like 'sweep it under the rug' and 'let's do lunch,” said Thomas. “Well, if you're talking to a Chinese person, what are they going to think you mean?” Frankly, they very well may have no idea.
All of this helps reaffirm the importance of working with translators and or go-betweens from the area in question when dealing in international B2B credit-granting. Their knowledge of the language, culture and business practices might just prevent a massive faux pas from which a recovery, and savior of the relationship, simply might not be possible.
-Brian Shappell, CBA, CICP, NACM staff writer