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Text 3. Meeting Internationally

The European community is now a single market; does it mean that all differences have been wiped away? For some of the legal differences, yes! For cultural differences, no!

The anecdote at the opening of a meeting may fly well with the American audience. However the French will smile, the Belgians laugh, the Dutch will be puzzled, and the Germans will take it literally. Humour does not travel well. In some countries, such as Britain, joking is often used to relieve tension, in others, such as Germany, it might be regarded as flippant or unprofessional. Sean O’Casey, the Irish playwright said that the Irish turn a crisis into a joke and a joke into a crisis.

And then there are the French, who are very attentive to hierarchy and ceremony. When first meeting with a French businessperson, stick to ‘monsieur’, ‘madame’, or ‘mademoiselle’. The use of first names is disrespectful to the French. If you don’t speak French fluently, apologize. Such apology shows general respect for the language and dismisses any stigma of American arrogance.

The formality of dress can vary with each country also. The Brit or the Dutchman will take off their jackets and literally roll up their sleeves; they mean to get down to business. The Spaniard will loosen his tie, while the German disapproves. He thinks they look sloppy and unbusinesslike. He keeps his jacket on and buttoned up throughout the meeting. So does the Italian, but that is because he dressed especially for the look of the meeting.

Germans, Dutch and Danes will be well prepared for the meeting. They will expect briefing papers which they will study and amend and whose implications they will meticulously research. British, Italian, Spanish, Irish and Greek participants will skim through the papers on the plane and some may still be leafing through them at the meeting. Participants from the USA, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands will expect to keep to the agenda. Participants from Portugal, Greece and Italy will free to introduce unscheduled topics at any time.

With all that, did the meeting decide anything? It was, after all, the first meeting. The Brits were just exploring the terrain, checking out the broad perimeters and all that. The French were assessing the other players’ strengths and weaknesses, and deciding what position to take at the next meeting. The Italians also won’t have taken it too seriously. For them it was a meeting to arrange the meeting agenda for the real meeting. Only the Germans will have assumed it was what it seemed and be surprised when the next meeting starts open-ended.

(From: B. Day “The Art of Conducting International Business”)


flippant – легкомысленный

stigma – позорное клеймо

arrogance – высокомерие, надменность

sloppy – небрежный

to amend – вносить поправки

meticulously – скрупулезно

to skim through – быстро просматривать

to explore the terrain – изучать обстановку

perimeters – зд., возможности

open-ended – незавершенный


Text 4. Pitfalls of International Meetings

More than six years ago the US futurist John Naisbitt wrote: ‘…the more technology in his society, the more people want to get together.’ But even he could not have envisaged the dramatic growth in the number of international meetings over the past few years.

Unique with all these meetings, which range in size from a few to more than a thousand, is that many of the participants leave their culture to meet in another. Unfortunately, what is not unique is that many of the meetings fail to accomplish their objectives to a very high degree.

The purposes of these meetings are varied, ranging from exchanging information to rewarding performance and creating opportunities for professional development. Often, as in the case of IBM Europe and other companies, the meetings are staged to introduce new products and make a sales pitch to top customers. IBM tries to get its top customers away from their normal business environment and gather them in a location that creates an atmosphere that ‘puts them in the right frame of mind and then allows us to do some high level selling’.

During the past year, I have attended a number of international meetings and witnessed first-hand serious administrative and planning problems, all of which undermined the chances of success.

A classic bungle (=error) was the arrival of participants’ material three days after one meeting ended. In another case, the audio visual equipment required by a presenter was delivered as the meeting was ending. At yet another meeting, the audio visual equipment was the wrong format, and the presenter was unable to show his video tapes.

International meeting organizers are sometimes guilty of even the most fundamental blunders. For example, at one meeting, pork was the only meat served to the many Moslems attending. At a three-day seminar, staged by an American company, the absence of any scheduled social activities drew complaints from the many European participants.

Company gatherings often show the most serious shortcomings. One very ‘process’ oriented meeting reflected the corporate culture. It encouraged small group discussions and group reports. Many of the participants wanted, and were expecting, more formal presentations by senior executives.

International meetings can be costly to stage, especially if there are poorly organized and fail to achieve the desired results. To have any chance of success, the foremost issue to consider is the purpose of the meeting. Only when that has been clearly articulated can organizers begin to plan the meeting and determine whether it has been a success.

At international meetings with participants from many different cultures, unique issues are bound to arise. For example, the timing of meals and the selection of the menu, the listing of names and titles, the use and language of business cards, the necessity of interpreters or translators and getting materials through customs are all factors that must be taken into account by the organizers.

It’s especially important to allow participants who travel long distances sufficient time to rest, physically and mentally, before the meeting begins. One large US-based organization ignores this completely, expecting travelers from Europe after a nine-hour-plus flight to attend a four-hour meeting the day they arrive. The following day, meetings are scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. and continue until 10 p.m. Most European participants are exhausted by the demanding regime and find that they benefit only marginally from the meetings.

A mini-checklist for any international meeting should begin with efforts to identify the nationalities of potential participants and make provisions that cater to their specific cultural needs.

Warnings to avoid national stereotypes, condescending (снисходительный) attitude and above all jokes, which are easily misunderstood, are among the tips given to organizers and speakers at international meetings by Dr Ernest Dichter, a motivational psychologist. He suggests that honoured attendees should be welcomed and that, when appropriate, deference (= respect) should be shown to participants because of their high-ranking positions.

Speakers making presentations in English at an international meeting in a country where it is not the national language, should tailor their presentations so that they will be understood by the entire audience. There are important considerations for persons responsible for the introduction of speakers. For example, personal information or the sharing of insights about one’s family life, which is common in North America, is not appropriate in Europe or Asia.


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