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When mixing cultures, go slow

Speed is relative – what may be slow to you may in fact be normal or fast to others. If you are excited or having fun, the time is probably blazing by. It slows to an unbearable crawl if you are anxious or bored. Ironically, the clock ticks at the same pace regardless of how you feel.

Most business situations, especially when different cultures are involved, are not always ideally set up. If you are the one looking to close a deal quickly, it probably seems like it is taking forever. If you like developing relationships before exploring a deal, you are probably feeling rushed. Stepping into another culture or mindset isn’t just a geographic issue. Even within the same city or same organization, people are often too busy mired in their existing paradigms to be thinking about another perspective. Ever experience any of this?

First things first
It is counterintuitive to first consider what somebody else wants. We tend to be obsessed with our own perspective and proceed too quickly to get what we want and what we are willing to offer for it. We are anxious to demonstrate and convince, often before asking questions to understand. In this way, we take a huge risk of being irrelevant. Peter Drucker offered this advice, “My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.”

Besides meeting the basic need, understanding a person’s values, background and culture helps us to appreciate what is relevant to them and why. And as they get to know us, they can also appreciate where we are coming from. We become more appealing to do business with. Shouldn’t we first ask, and then tell?

The Enigma of Intent
We get suspicious if the deal seems too good to be true. Even when all of the capabilities have been scrutinized and all of the past successes have been verified. After all of the i’s have been dotted and all of the t’s have been crossed, we somehow still have an uneasy feeling about the deal. Why? Perhaps it goes back to trusting the other party beyond just a transaction?

The true intent behind a deal is much more than just the practical reasons for it, such as increasing profits or shareholder value. That’s not to say those outcomes are not important. They are. But building trust and a mutually beneficial shared vision can not only, at the very least, add an extra element of satisfaction to the transaction, but it can also create other opportunities not initially imagined. But even more than that, you can change a transaction into a rich collaboration by developing a friendship. Studies show that we prefer to do business with people we can trust like a friend. And who doesn’t need a friend like that these days?

Noelani Kalipi, executive director of the Kohala Institute, a sustainability organization on the Big Island of Hawai‘i, explains that the basis for collaboration starts with shared values. A contract rarely is able to define every possible outcome or response. Knowing that there is mutual accountability to do what is right and proper and not just what is required in a contract improves the collaboration. Incidentally, accountability is the third of the five universal values that Kohala Institute espouses as being essential for any collaboration to be successful. The five values are Gratitude, Respect, Accountability, Courage and Engagement. You will need all five to resolve any conflicts so isn’t it better to establish them before you have one?

Meaningful Handshake
We have replaced the faith of a handshake with reams of contractual clauses. It used to mean when a hand was extended, it showed trust and comfort with the integrity of the one you are doing business with. It takes time to demonstrate your integrity, mostly by understanding and accepting what the universal values mean with this collaboration. It is not done through stacks of case studies, abundant endorsements or fancy legal work. It is often gained through shared experiences and witnessing actions and words in ordinary exchanges.

The NextEra Energy $4.3 billion proposed deal to buy Hawaiian Electric started with Hawaii regulators asking why they should trust NextEra. The deal was eventually rejected, costing NextEra a $90 million termination fee, in addition to the millions of dollars already spent on legal, engineering and systems integration efforts. How could a company that had the financing, the technical expertise and experience not grasp the handshake that would seal the deal?

Trust me. Really.
Nowhere is trust more critical than in the solicitation and the receiving of a charitable gift. Too many nonprofit organizations run into a funding or cash-flow issue and assume it can be readily solved by asking a major donor for support. Donors don’t only give because you have a financial need. They give because they want to see you effectively fulfill your mission. Trust isn’t built over a transaction. It is built over time and often times, over many small gifts before a significant one is considered. Why settle for one transaction when you can enjoy many over a lifetime of collaboration?

Sealing the Deal
The winning point comes after a well-played game. Once trust has been established, the deal surprisingly can move at a much faster pace. Challenges and disagreements are inevitable in any collaboration. But when all who are involved are inspired to make the deal successful, the solutions to the challenges and disagreements are much more rewarding.

The successful end to the fourth quarter starts with the right things happening in the first three. Take your time; don’t cut corners. Build the relationship; build trust. Even if it seems slow or even if you are falling behind initially. If you play the game by these rules, you should be right where you need to be in the final quarter. Why then would you rush the game?

Alan Tang is the chairman, CEO and president of Olomana Loomis ISC, an award-winning integrated business consulting, brand and marketing firm based in Honolulu, Hawai‘i.
For more information, contact: alan@olomanaloomisisc.com

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