The 1001 Tales Of “Normal” In International Business

crossculture2go coach Renata Urban says, she can instantly feel her eyebrows move up and her forehead frown when she hears that word: "normal". Here is why.
Normal in International Business
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Why am I on such bad terms with this little word? Well, mainly because most people assume that there is only one ‘normal’ worldwide and that their ‘normal’ is just like everybody else’s ‘normal’, but that could not be any further from the truth.


For instance, wouldn’t you email your business partner in Turkey an agenda for the meeting next week to show that you are prepared and that you have taken their topics of interest into consideration? Isn’t that ‘normal’? Yes and no.

It is common practice in the US. A meeting without an agenda would look unprepared and possibly imply that the organizer does not take it seriously. Not so in Turkey!

In fact, it is enough to state your interest in discussing business, collaboration, or a project, but you would leave the details to be organically developed and discussed there and then. Anything else would leave the impression of imposing a rigid list of topics of your choice on your Turkish business partners without leaving any room for topics that would naturally come up as you develop your relationship.

Presentation Styles

Maybe you are not so familiar with Turkish culture and business practices, but how about Germany? You probably have a stereotypical idea of how they are and how they do business. Let’s assume you have a meeting with potential German investors and you have to put together an impressive and convincing presentation for them. So, how would you do that? Straight to the point highlighting the advantages of collaboration? Focusing on the outcome of the partnership? An animated and entertaining slide show with subtle humor and energy showcasing your strengths? And what about boring details, statistics, research, and other information backing up every single statement? Probably not, at least not as part of the presentation. After all, we want to impress the Germans and not bore them.

How successful do you think this type of presentation would be in Germany?

If you said highly successful, think twice! The potential investors would probably not take you seriously, question every word you said, and demand evidence for every claim you have made. While an application-first presentation style using inductive reasoning is more popular in the US, Germans prefer a principle-first presentation style using deductive reasoning. This is pretty ‘normal’ in Germany, so do not worry about losing their attention as you carefully building your solid foundation on facts and evidence before presenting the enticing benefits at the end. They will pay attention and probably remember every single detail.


Finally, let’s have a look at a US American favorite: brainstorming. It is considered ‘normal’ to use meetings for brainstorming ideas. Everyone has a say, ideas are gathered, and maybe we can even make a decision at the end of the meeting based on the results of the brainstorming session.

However, if you assume that brainstorming and decision-making during meetings is ‘normal’ everywhere, it is no surprise that your attempts of entering international business relationships keep failing.

For example, trying to have a brainstorming session in China and trying to get the participants to make a decision at the end of the meeting would be futile. You and your colleagues would be brainstorming while your Chinese guests would remain silent and inactive. The Chinese would even say “yes, yes” once in a while, and you would think they agree with everything that is being discussed.

Yet, The Reality Is A Different One

Your Chinese guests would try to mask their discomfort with this situation, hoping to be among themselves soon so that they can discuss what they have heard. They will not make a decision there and then and their “yes, yes” is just a token of their courtesy. In China, information is usually exchanged through a variety of channels, consensus is reached behind closed doors, and the decision is simply presented at a meeting. And yes, this is ‘normal’, at least from a Chinese point of view.

Watch Out For Different Types Of ‘Normal’

Therefore, it is a good idea to make yourself familiar with what others consider ‘normal’ before assuming that your ‘normal’ and their ‘normal’ is the same. This is useful for small talk, prospecting, sales, presenting, negotiating, building trust and relationships, communicating, decision-making, agreeing and disagreeing, giving feedback, leading, motivating, evaluating, scheduling, the type of information you provide and how much information is available, norms, values, beliefs, attitudes, and any type of behavior.

Renata Urban

This article was published at WTCPB.

Renata Urban

Renata Urban

Growing up, living and working in different countries and with people from all over the world has had a significant impact on my cultural perceptions, the languages I speak, my understanding of cross-cultural cooperation, and who I am as a trainer today. I am a trained, certified, and experienced language teacher, intercultural coach, and communication skills trainer who is patient and resourceful, who understands your unique situation, who cares and will help you achieve your goals.

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