Building BIG Communication Bridges

By Luis F. Gonzalez-Aspuru, founder and president of Asgar Corporation, a training business that helps people and organizations increase their quality of life.

A few years ago, one of my mentors told me: “If you’re going to do it, do it BIG!” At the time, I didn’t understand what he meant. As I gained more experience as an employee – and eventually as an entrepreneur – his advice began to resonate.

For 10 years, I have experienced the direct effects of globalization and international business through frontiers like engineering outsourcing, call centers, product manufacturing and learning services. Applying what I learned from previous employers, I decided to “go big” and partner with a foreign company offering outsourced learning and coaching services in my country.

Since then, I have spoken with many businesspeople around the world. Each person I spoke with had the same universal concern: How do I communicate effectively when outsourcing? Though English is understood to be the international language of business, I knew I had to get use to “translating cultures” if I wanted to establish communication bridges in international markets.

Here are some valuable lessons I learned about communicating with foreign clients:

1. I learned to not talk first.
Many years ago, during one of my first major business negotiations overseas, I explained the nature of my business to a client before he had the chance to ask. I went through the whole spiel and told him that if price was an issue, we would consider a revision in order to get business to Mexico. Finally, I stopped. He looked at me and said, “Yes, I think we should talk about prices in Mexico … explain to me how you can get more cost effective.” I later discovered that they thought our initial asking price was fair. I learned that price perception is different from country to country and to not talk until I understand what the other party is looking for.

2. I learned to be polite.
I once held a discussion with a Chinese client regarding the possibility of bringing equipment to Mexico. I was talking through an interpreter. For 40 minutes, we discussed things like the weather, our countries, etc. Eventually, I wanted to know more details about the business and changed the subject. I could tell from the look on his face that something was wrong. The interpreter told me that the client was expecting to talk about business during the second meeting. Apparently, my changing the subject so abruptly implied that I wasn’t interested in him as a person. From that point on, I make sure I’m always extra polite. Being polite shows I respect my clients, their culture and am willing to listen to their views.

3. I decided not to discuss money.
When a US client came to Mexico to negotiate business one day, I drove my best car, wore my most expensive clothes  and jewelry and took him to the most luxurious hotel in the city. I thought I was sending the right message— one that indicated financial stability in my business. Afterward, I learned his impression was that we were making lots of money through him. The next thing I knew, he started to negotiate prices because he “knew” that it was possible. I now make it a point to avoid being flashy when explaining the fiscal future of my business and/or goals.

4. I learned to always be on time.
One day, I had an important conference call with the director of a Canadian company I was doing business with. I dialed in three minutes late, though by the time I was connected I was nearly six minutes late. I found out my client reserved only 10 minutes for our conversation. Four minutes after I got on the call, he cut me off and rescheduled our next discussion for two weeks later. To this day, I try to be at least five minutes early. Not only will they appreciate my dedication, I will have control over the course of the meeting.

5. I reassessed my thinking.
On one occasion, I remember having a conversation with a Korean client. I began listing everything I knew about Korea:  their politics, history, religion, etc. After a while, he said, “Luis, I did not know that and I am not interested. I left my country when I was three years old and I’m a US citizen now!” Since then, I’ve approached my guests like I would anyone else. I also set aside any information I have regarding their culture and talk to them from an entrepreneur’s perspective.

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