How to Conduct Business with Israeli Businesspeople

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Multiculturalism is extremely important in the business environment so you need to make sure that you are able to manage working with businessmen and governmental organizations from other countries. Therefore, you should take into consideration some cross-cultural business advice that will facilitate your work. Before actually jumping to business, make sure you do your research.

According to recent studies, over 90% of the problems that arise during the development stage and the maintenance of commercial relations with partners from other countries are closely related to different cultural perceptions and not to prices, products or services as you might be inclined to think.

In today’s article we shall touch upon the ways an entrepreneur or a business owner can be able to work with Israeli businessmen and/or governmental organizations and break down the cultural barriers.

Americans, Europeans, Asians and Israelis perceive time and value in a different way. Don’t get fooled into thinking that the Spanish, the Chinese or the Israeli act and behave in the exact same manner. Do that and you might be setting yourself up for a great disappointment. The most common error a foreign business owner does when visiting their Israeli counterpart in the latter one’s country is to still consider as if you’re still in your country. Smiles, handshakes and body language are universal concepts, but a few minutes into the discussion, something just won’t click!

There is a common misconception that Israelis are arrogant, pushy and aggressive. Or, at least, that’s how outsiders perceive them. However, they are actually direct and honest. In today’s world, Israelis are considered phony and weak. This couldn’t be further from the trust. Actually, they are only treating you politely and respectfully. Should a foreign business owner and an Israeli one create a commercial venture without giving much thought to the understanding of cultural traits, they should brace for impact because their venture will go down faster than the Titanic.

Leave aside the office furniture, the mobile gadgets or the hundreds of thousands of MCDonald restaurants. That’s not what Israeli businesspeople are all about; the fact remains that the most important things are how they perceive you and where they come from.

As opposed to the American, German, British or French society (a monochronic one, i.e. rule-oriented), the Israeli one is a polymorphic culture, which is oriented towards relationships. In this culture, emotions or feelings play the most important part, while objective facts or data come second. During the past few millennia, the Israeli have become in the foreign business people’s perception one large family. Rarely is formality present in a family. The members of a family prefer to act in a direct, honest and immediate manner. What a family considers direct, a foreigner will almost in every case consider it impolite or rude.

A human being will judge other people based on their behavior. Among the aspects which said person will take into consideration are: punctuality, planning, the verbal and written communication, the negotiation style, the business label and all the significant non-verbal communication trademarks. According to recent studies, 70 percent of the understanding process is based on non-verbal communication (i.e. gestures, expressions, eye contact, etc.). However, these are just the first steps in understanding the whole process.

Here are a few tips that will ensure a better, faster and more efficient communication with an Israeli business partner.

Greetings and Distance

Make sure you wear a suit in which you feel comfortable. In 99 % of instances, Israeli businesspeople wish and expect you to dress the same way you would dress back home. Adopting the Israeli attire like a dress with pants or a short sleeved dress shirt will confuse them every time. They will be under the impression that you are trying too hard to fit in and it will create the sensation of dull and predictable rather than unique and different. Afterwards, you should dress down. Show the business person that you are different and you will gain his utmost respect.

Should you have to visit the Israeli business person on a summer’s day, wear the suit but leave the jacket in the hotel room.

While the Israeli people are extremely close, most of them do not offer handshakes. However, this is changing as we speak. Avoid feeling offended if the Israelis don’t shake your hand, but make sure you do offer yours. Physical contact is extremely important to them, so make sure to offer them a sincere smile as well.

Maintaining eye contact may apply to almost everyone but it is paramount that you don’t stray from it when meeting a potential Israeli partner. While it may feel like they are invading your space given the distance or lack thereof, accept and embrace it. Despite the fact that your mind is telling you that you should probably take a step back, try not to do this because it will lead to interpretation.

Israeli people prefer to be addressed by their first name. As a sign of politeness they will address you with the title Mr. or Ms. but, you should encourage them to address you by your first name as well. This will create a bridge between the two of you, thus creating the relationship and the communication more honest and intimate.

Exchanging business cards is not a common thing in Israel. While nowadays Israeli people tend to use this practice more often, don’t let it bother you if they don’t have their calling cards out on deck. While in Japan for example people receive the business cards with both hands, Israeli people prefer to use only one – not as a sign of disrespect, but rather to ensure a less official and a more intimate way of doing business.

While at a first glance an Israeli may seem friendly, there are still some conservative areas. They don’t feel all that comfortable talking about extremely personal or intimate topics of discussions or problems such as sex, divorce, army service, etc.

Crowd management is something that pretty much lacks in Israel. For example, if you’re trying to get on a bus you don’t expect them to form a line. To avoid being the last person on the bus or actually not being able to enter, use a gentle nudge.

Body Language

Israeli people are always ready to take immediate action. This is easily noticeable by watching the enormous number of Israelis that sit leaning forward with their legs spread apart, ready to rise to their feet in literally a second.

Often times they will lean back and sit comfortably in their chair and place their hands on the back of their heads. This should not be viewed as arrogance but rather informality. This is a good sign, the person feels comfortable in your presence.

There is a common custom where an Israeli will ask you to wait by placing their hand up, palm towards their body with the fingers coming together. Only after will they shake your hand. If you happen to see this gesture in other places in Europe it means that you should wait a second.

The Verbals

It is common-knowledge that Israeli people are extremely passionate and expressive. Don’t feel frightened or threatened if they raise their voices; it’s just the way they talk to one another. Also, they have a unique way from passing from one state to another; one moment they are yelling at their colleagues and a few minutes later they’re hugging those colleagues.

However, should an Israeli person talk in a low tone for a couple of hours straight and continuously smile, it means that he’s just faking it and he’d be anywhere rather than sitting with you at the table. Take into account the fact that this does not apply for businesspeople that lived for long period outside of Israel.

If there’s one thing the Israeli people is known for is that they are an extremely curious. So don’t act surprised when they’ll eventually ask you how much you make during a year, your marital status or other intimate questions. When responding make sure to be kind and polite.

Time Management

When it comes to setting deadlines with your Israeli partners it’s best to keep them rather short (we’re talking days and weeks, not months and years) because, given they have been scarred by the repercussions of war, they prefer making the most out of each day.
Since they are well known for their informal demeanor, expect to be invited to impromptu meetings, but don’t forget that punctuality is a relative concept within their culture. So, when you’re planning your business schedule, it’s best to leave open an interval of 15 – 20 minutes for such instances.
In western cultures, inviting a partner to discuss business over lunch or breakfast is entirely acceptable; some might even say it’s recommended. However, Israelis aren’t keen on this habit, and they might even perceive it as wasteful. That is why it might be best to have some food and drinks brought directly in the conference room. On the other hand, joining your partner’s family over dinner is an excellent opportunity to reinforce your bond, giving you the perfect frame for discussing family values, history, sports and complementing their culture. But unless they bring it up, it’s best to steer away from political and religious issues.
Another aspect to have in mind is interruptions during meetings. Although in your own culture it may be rude to take phone calls and discuss with other colleagues from your department while being in a meeting, this is quite common is Israel and should not be interpreted as presumptuous or unmannered. They simply see it as a form of multitasking.

Bargaining Tips

The Israelis may very well be the best negotiators in the world, so expect you’ll be witnessing some rather rough bargaining. Be that as it may, there is no malevolence in their negotiating methods. They simply take pride in mastering this art. That is why, if you’re planning on selling something, you should start much higher than you normally would so you can give the buyer some room to meet you halfway.
If you don’t want to feel like an outsider during business meetings, take our advice and hire a professional interpreter, who aside from offering you linguistic assistance, will also function as a cultural mediator. This way, you have the certainty that you’ll always be kept within the loop and you won’t miss any important details.
And since we’re already on the subject of doing things by the book, be sure to make an official written record of every single decision that has been taken during business meetings. Regardless of the sense of trust you might have in your partners, a signed contract will always be your most trustworthy ally. Also, you should be aware of the fact that you might be asked to end all negotiations within a very limited timeframe. This should neither offend nor unsettle you; it is merely their way of ensuring they have closed a good deal. So what you may perceive as a lack of patience is actually an instance of Israeli time efficiency.
In terms of bargaining, other things to be on the lookout while in Israel have to do with taxis and restaurant service. While hitching a cab ride within city limits, make sure the meter is always turned on and, even if the drivers aren’t typically tipped in Israel, the gesture would be highly appreciated. In terms of tips for the waiting staff, they should be somewhere around 10 – 15 %.

Gift Giving

Creating a strong informal bond with your business partners is extremely important and, since the Israeli is such a welcoming people, if you are invited in their home, this is typically a sign of genuine benevolence. So if you are invited over dinner, the best house favours are flowers, chocolates or a nice bottle of wine. For more official get-togethers, you might want to bring some tourism brochures of your country or perhaps an encyclopedia on your nation’s historical and cultural heritage.

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