Being and Doing – When Business Gets Personal


One of the most visible sources of cultural gaps among diverse partners and colleagues is differences in interaction style preferences. While thinking style and sense of self gaps often appear over the course of business relationships, interaction style gaps – most notably between the being and doing preferences – often have an immediate impact.

Take this scenario as an example:

Shannon, an Irish executive on business in Cairo, had made it through her morning meetings and was looking forward to having lunch with her Egyptian partners. In the taxi on the way to the restaurant, the Cairo project manager Hassan asked her what she considered some rather personal questions. She was doing her best to be friendly and answer them, although she thought the questions were intrusive and that she and Hassan should have focused more on business.

While Shannon found Hassan’s questions invasive, he was attempting to establish a relationship with Shannon based upon the general Egyptian being preference. By asking for information on her personal background – what part of Dublin she lives in, how many siblings she has, where she went to university – Hassan was building trust, and hoped the conversation would remain casual and not business focused over lunch.

Shannon wanted to continue to discuss business matters in line with her doing preference. She felt that discussions regarding her family and private life were too personal.

Shannon should acknowledge that getting to know her partners is an important part of doing business in Egypt. While in Cairo, she should be prepared to open herself up to what she considers unnecessary chatting.

Conversely, while asking personal questions is a normal part of Egyptian business culture, if Hassan were to travel to Ireland, he would have to accustom himself to a more doing-oriented environment in which colleagues discuss business – and business only – even during meals together.

By foreseeing these possible gaps through cultural due diligence, and then style switching around them, partners can avoid unease and have the kind of conversations that foster better business.