June 24th, 2010
10:16 AM GMT
Understanding cultural nuances is part of doing business anywhere in the world. I recently spoke with J.J Ngulube, the CEO of Munich Reinsurance Africa operations, about communicating across cultures.
This is our conversation about how he, as a Zimbabwean, does business with fellow Africans across the continent.
J.J Ngulube: There’s a lot of unwritten business rules and this varies from West Africa to East Africa even within.
Robyn Curnow: Like what?
JN: How you communicate. For example when somebody says 'yes.' When a West African says 'yes' you have to understand what that means.
RC: What does it mean?
JN: Is it 'yes I hear what you are saying?' Is it 'yes I agree?' Or is it 'yes I’m politely agreeing but I’m not happy with what you’re saying' ?
RC: So, it basically means no?
JN: Exactly. So even that 'yes,' you have to be able to interpret and body language is everything. It’s so easy for a non-African to go away thinking ‘I met those guys and they agreed with everything I said.'
This exchange is a wonderful description of the perils of doing business in a foreign land where language and cultural barriers can make all parties feel very confused about the outcome of a conversation.
Have you ever walked out of meeting thinking you had achieved one thing and realized later that you had agreed to something completely different?
I would love to hear your stories.
About Business 360
CNN International's business anchors and correspondents get to grips with the issues affecting world business, and they want your questions and feedback.