Business – Task or relationship?
Text & Photo: Steve Flinders
Are you happy to walk into a meeting full of people you don’t know and get straight down to business, or do you feel the need to find out something about them first?
Interculturalists distinguish between more task- and more relationship-orientated business cultures. This is important to bear in mind when dealing with people from an unfamiliar company or country. My urge when I meet you professionally might be to find out something about you and your background; your interest might be simply to get on with the job in hand. Your reflex might derive from where you come from or simply from who you are – an interpersonal rather than an intercultural phenomenon.
I was once given an example of relationship orientation by a French hotelier who wanted to develop his Saudi clientele. His first visit to the country was a disaster. Although he had arranged a series of meetings beforehand, his timetable soon fell apart since no one was available when they had said they would be, and he wasted hours waiting for people who never turned up. So he forgot about planning and simply started calling people once he had arrived: it worked. His contacts would invite him to join them for elaborate meals. During three or four trips, he did a lot of socialising with little mention of work. But once the relationships had been forged, the business started flowing in and the significant investment in time and money that he had made paid off.
Whether working internationally or not, task-orientated people must recognise the need others may have to build relationships. Their impatience to get things done may lead them to trample roughshod over others’ feelings. Relationship-orientated people, on the other hand, can be so focused on achieving harmony that they lose focus of the essential objective of getting results. As often, it’s a question of awareness and getting the balance right.
Steve Flinders is a freelance trainer, writer and coach, based in Malta, who helps people develop their communication and leadership skills for working internationally: firstname.lastname@example.org. Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Discover France & Spain.
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