The overseas market concludes over 50 per cent of Mergers and Acquisitions transactions (M&A), thus understanding the nuances of these deals from both parties’ perspective is critical. We are not just talking a different language, our cultures and working methods are vastly different.
Where humour in the UK may be acceptable and helpful in lifting the mood, you risk being seen as unprofessional under tense circumstances in Germany or China. Engaging in an appropriate manner is important from the start of the interaction, not just in the heat of the debate.
Who you bring to the table, where you sit them, what you wear, how you introduce both yourself and colleagues and when to speak, can make or break an international transaction.
This article is not going to cover standard practices, as there are guide books aplenty on business etiquette. Rather, I want to emphasise the importance of gaining this knowledge and never assuming one size fits all.
- Do not take any particular attitude as a personal attack, as some cultures are more severe than others. Equally, a constant smile may not be considered positive;
- Some cultures cannot actually say “no” in negotiations, so may say “yes” when meaning the opposite;
- Always confirm your understanding through written word. This will help maintain momentum and deal with simple language misunderstandings;
- Some cultures will not be rushed while others press for instant decisions. Make sure you know your audiences preference without letting this send you off balance; and
- Make your own decision at the right time.
After many national and international deals, experience has taught me to always remain civil, respectful and calm, however much you may feel like the opposite.
Unfortunately, many Britons expect other cultures to follow our ways. Not only is this unlikely to happen as we approach the twenty-teens, but is an unacceptable arrogance which will taint the deal process irrevocably.
Don’t assume and take the time to get to know your partner or adversary. You will have a more successful process.
Jo Haigh is head of FDS corporate finance services and the author of ‘The Financial Times Guide to Finance for Non Financial Managers’.