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Etiquette lesson: Israel

By Peter Petzal for
Negotiating parameters might be wildly different in Israel to those business travelers are used to.


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Biz Traveller

(CNN) -- Negotiating in Israel or with Israelis can be an intense and frustrating process for visitors to the country.

The historical Jerusalem market, famous for its haggling and bargain hunters, has survived the centuries and many visitors still think it to be the birthplace for Israel (and Arab) negotiating skills.

Negotiating parameters might be wildly different to those of the visiting business traveler, agendas might not always be clear, and patience -- or lack of it -- might well follow.

Despite this, Israelis have been outstandingly successful and highly creative and today feature as some of the most successful business people in industries as diverse as weaponry, agriculture, wine making and technology.

Getting to the heart of Israel is key; understanding the personal dimensions of business is the first step forward.

Israelis born in the country are known as "Sabras" derived from the name of a fruit-bearing cactus found in the desert; thorns and spikes are found on the outside but once open, full of soft sweet fruit. The analogy feels right.

Israel has had to trade -- and sometimes to fight -- for its survival, meaning that cultural adaptability has been a significant prevailing factor.

Surrounded by Arab neighbors on three sides and the Mediterranean to the West, it is a country made up almost entirely of immigrants, and the strong cultural mix is often difficult for non-Israelis to comprehend.

While researching the destination before you arrive is a good idea, nothing can substitute spending a day or two in Israel before you start work to observe the culture in action.

Here are just a few of the cultural dilemmas that business people might face when visiting Israel:

Emotional deals

  • To Israelis, the process of getting to know and feeling at ease with you is as important as striking the deal. Personal questions, which some people might find intrusive, can be part of the norm. These can include information asked about your family life, where you were born, your religion and how much you earn.
  • Emotional content will play a significant role in a successful business relationship.
  • To the point

  • Israelis are sometimes seen as very direct, demanding, aggressive -- sometimes even rude to the extent of arrogance.
  • Communicating

  • Israelis have a direct communication style, sometime intense or even passionate; anger and happiness can often all be expressed in one minute.
  • In general, Israeli business people speak good English.
  • Physical space

  • Israelis are at ease with close physical contact as are their Arab neighbors. Americans and Germans prefer more physical distance; Israelis might taken this as stand offishness or as symptomatic of a cold uninvolved attitude. Equally touch and physical contact feature in day-to-day business relationships.
  • Security

  • Security still lies at the heart of the Israeli dilemma. Having lived through four wars since 1948, endured bombs in the streets and bus stations and for most men and women, being conscripted at 18 and then serving each year, has influenced Israeli perspectives and its world view. In practical terms and for the visiting business person, it places probably still more emphasis on understanding the components of your working relationship.
  • Time keeping

  • Israelis have a more relaxed attitude to time and time keeping than a lot of other cultures. Equally, time has an additional face. The nature of Israeli society is increasingly a "deliver it now" culture.
  • The above are just a few of the dilemmas that people coming to work or do business with the Israelis have to reconcile; there are many others. For more information about these click hereexternal link.

    Peter Petzal works for London-based international training, workshops and consultancy 2C International

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