I interviewed Ruud Noordzij who discussed International Communication Styles.
Can you provide a brief background of yourself?
Yes, I would be happy to. I'm Dutch born and raised, in the city of Rotterdam, and my dad happened to be working in the shipping and logistics industry. Actually, the company that he was a financial manager at was busy in the barging world, so going up and down the Rhine River into Germany and dealing, basically, with cement. A cement carrier. While I got kind of infected by that part, he'd been trying to steer me away from entering the industry,but after finishing high school, I was interested in looking into industries that would provide guaranteed employment. The logistics industry was looking really interesting to me.Of course, in a big port like Rotterdam, there's a whole lot of things to do.
I went through college, got my degree, and started working as ancarrier agent, being a port captain. I would be visiting vessels that would enter and leave the port. And that kind of got me infected a little more, I started looking at building a little career in the freight forwarding industry, and was able to continue that when moving to the United States to marry my wife.
Can you explain why it would be helpful to learn more about people's communication styles in various parts of the world?
Yes.Absolutely. Well, we're all pressed for time, and everything is driven by a certain amount of activities within a certain period of time. We do communicate quite differently throughout the world, in different parts of the world. Naturally, there is first confusion whichmay take the front seat, which means that if you're talking about legal matters, it might just become a big issue. And I can focus on the way peopleuse the English language, because that would be the international language of choice. We all have quite different expressions. For example, here in the United States, we would tend to be more direct. If we go up north, looking at Canada, people seem to not be as direct, but a little more able to discuss facts and figures.
That is already making a difference. Its like going across the world or going to the other side of the world, looking at, for example, the Indian sub-continent, and the way that the Indians and Pakistani would use their English language It's quite different from ours. And we're looking at the United Kingdom, for example. Their English is a lot different than the way we tend to practice English.
Which areas are more focused on facts and which are more on emotions?
Americans, we're very fact driven. We like to cut to the chase, so bring to the table what you're coming for and also what you want to discuss. If you're talking business, if you're talking about transactions at all. So put your cards on the table, spell it out, and then there might be a confrontation part. There might be a provocation part. Then also, that might just be managed seriously, or not as seriously.
So, of course, a lot of people abroad might misunderstand that. Where I'm from, for example, in Europe, when we would discuss matters with Americans, we would kind of get steered away from where we want to go. Jokes would be made about certain matters, and Europeans would take it seriously. We’re kind of getting away from the subject matter. Not getting closer to each other, and also not closer to the piece of business that both parties want to pursue.
Are there any language barriers or areas that are more prone to confusion?
Well, certain language barriers, there might be... Well, a big one, now, we're doing a lot of business with Asian countries. Of course, there is China. Well, Hong Kong is the part of China that could be regarded as kind of separate. People in Hong Kong are more in our realm. That means more words are being used, but then also the words might be confusing. But then the people in Hong Kong not as moralistic or moderate as the Chinese on the Chinese mainland. They tend to be moderate in the beginning, and then they kind of become more and more direct throughout the process. Like if you're talking building business, or you're talking business negotiations. If you're talking even like certain transactions that take place, in the beginning, it's very friendly. But it's also very... I wouldn't use the word vague. But it's more holding off on the subject matter. And then once people get a hold on what's really going on, then the directness increases.
And then, also, there is, of course, the language itself. And the language might not be understood well enough. And the danger now that I see is something like translation services online. They do translate words, but they don't translate meanings. They don't translate the whole sentence as the sentence is meant. You might have a combination of words that are in a sentence, but when you would put the sentence together, you're starting to look at a garbled composition. It's not really a sentence anymore but a composition of words that don't make a sentence.
Where have you seen some success in business?
Actually, throughout. It doesn't really matter where.I've seen successes in continents like Africa. I've seen successes in the Middle East. Actually, the people in the Middle East, if we're looking at the Arab subcontinent or looking at all the area like Saudi Arabia is, where the Emirates are, there is less use of words but more use of numbers. There is a tendency to look more at the numbers and the facts — summarize the facts; give me the facts — more than words. So if you can work with that, then you can get things done pretty quickly.
I'm looking at my home continent, Europe. Similar matter. It just comes down to whether you make sense or not. You need to make sense. You need to summarize everything. So cut out the words. Just limit the use of words, and give more facts. If you can get more factual, of course, that depends from area to area.
I did work a lot with people in the United Kingdom. They tend to be more verbal. They use more words, and then if you go to the European continent or the mainland, there's less use of words. I can, for example, use the example of the Germans. The Germans are generally factual. You need to state everything. Then if you want to go into the proposal or the business proposal in whichever business you're at, put the facts on the table. Then of course, there is the typical“thanks for giving me those numbers and those facts, but I already have my contacts doing this and that”. So there's the comparison better. Then you kind of need to make your case after that, meaning you should have your case ready before you propose, because you need to be ready for their resistance. Then you need to get in, make your case, counteroffer, and then see where you can end up. That's for the Germans that I've worked with a lot and actually still work with quite a bit.
Looking at other areas in the world, looking at Southeast Asia, for example, you're looking at Indonesia. You're looking at Singapore. Also, you can kind of stretch out to Australia. But then the Australians are way different. So I'll focus more on the Southeast Asian areas. That's more like the people there would want to pick your brain at first. They don't come out and tell them what they're up to and also want you to figure out what they're doing. Then throw in your proposals, your ideas to get business or to start building business. Then the ideas come out. They tend to cater more to what you would like to hear and usually it ends up in an ambiguous area. So that means there is no exact understanding from either side. In other word…. where are we? A dangerous marriage. So that means if you get to a certain conclusion, you get to certain business decisions, and you definitely need to write them down. This goes across the board. Of course, it also goes across the board with anything legal. You need to have it in writing. Especially with the people in Southeast Asia.
I've seen some good successes there too, talking about Thailand, for example, talking about Indonesia. Dealing with people in automotive manufacturing, dealing with people in musical instruments manufacturing. There's always an opportunity.
Thank you, Ruud, for sharing today.
About Ruud Noordzij
Consultant at Apnoor Consulting