Cross-Cultural Business Behavior: Marketing, Negotiating and Managing Across Cultures. (Biblio Service).
Article Type:
Book Review
Books (Book reviews)
Mickalites, Carey
Pub Date:
Name: Management International Review Publisher: Gabler Verlag Audience: Trade Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Business; Business, international Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2001 Gabler Verlag ISSN: 0938-8249
Date: Oct, 2001 Source Volume: 41 Source Issue: 4
NamedWork: Cross-Cultural Business Behavior: Marketing, Negotiating and Managing Across Cultures (Book)
Reviewee: Gesteland, Richard

Accession Number:
Full Text:
Richard Gesteland: Cross-Cultural Business Behavior: Marketing, Negotiating and Managing Across Cultures, Copenhagen, Denmark: Copenhagen Business School Press 1999.

In Cross-Cultural Business Behavior, Richard Gesteland brings together his thirty-five-years of international experience "in marketing, sourcing, managing, and leading seminars" to attempt to categorize and explain the cultural patterns of business behavior of thirty-four different national and cultural markets. The overall contents of the book are divided into two main sections; Part One deals with what, for convenience-sake, might be called the theoretical aspects of cultural analysis in a business environment, while Part Two seeks to classify various cultures and their respective markets into categories and patterns of communication and behavior based upon those observations made in the first part.

The introductory chapter provides the theoretical outline and general contents of Part One of the book, beginning with what Mr. Gesteland calls the "two iron rules of international business," claiming that "In International Business, the Seller is Expected to Adapt to the Buyer," and "In International Business, the Visitor is Expected to Observe Local Customs" (15). He then briefly outlines the major cultural categories or, what he calls the "logical patterns," of Part One of the book: Deal-Focused vs. Relationship-Focused, Informal vs. Formal, Rigid vs. Fluid-Time, and Expressive vs. Reserved Cultures. Dealing with what he calls "The Great Divide Between Business Cultures," Gesteland then examines the cultural and communicative differences between more relationship-focused and more deal-focused business cultures, in which through graphs and informally written case studies he outlines, for example, cultures such as those of North America and Northern Europe on the deal-focused end and Arabian, African, Latin American, and Asian cultures as on the opposing, relationship-focused end. Exemplary points here include the importance of direct and frequent contact among the more relationship-focused cultures as opposed the common reliance upon telephone and e-mail communication among the more deal-focused cultures, as well as a brief analysis with exemplary case studies of the different communicative styles between these broad categories of cultural types, for the most part dividing Eastern cultures into those with an indirect and high-context, and Western cultures into those with a direct and low-context, communicative style. These geographical-cultural divisions also largely apply to the next major section, formal and informal cultures, with the exception that "most of Europe," is here categorized as among more formal cultures, including Asian, Arabian, and Latin American cultures. Here, Gesteland reminds us that more formal cultures tend to employ more visible hierarchies than those more informal cultures such as the U.S. and Australia, and he deals briefly with some recommendations for adapting to cultural communicative codes, such as those of verbal addresses (using formal titles in Germany, for example) and "nonverbal ways of showing respect" in more hierarchical societies, including of course dress and references to the varying significance attached to gender and age among cultures. Varying cultural approaches to time and scheduling are then taken up, again offering categories and exemplary case studies, to contrast "rigid-time vs. fluid-time cultures."

Moving on to specifically communicative issues, Gesteland then introduces a chapter on "Nonverbal Business Behavior," in which he also treats paraverbal aspects of communication, including, for example, the notion of conversational overlap and its variations between what he categorizes as essentially expressive and reserved cultures. The latter part of the chapter offers "Do's and Taboos" advice on various ambiguous gestures in a number of cultures, followed by a chapter centred around suggestions for verbal and nonverbal etiquette, but here, while this approach to a multitude of cultures tends to be rather reductive (and this will be treated further, below), Gesteland rightly admits that his "`patterns of culture' approach explains some but not all protocol behaviors" (81), and that the international business practitioner should, "when in doubt, just ask" (84). Concluding Part One of the book are chapters on corruption and bribery within a number of international markets and "Marketing Across Cultures," the latter emphasizing a "customer focus" and offering several interesting cases of culturally adapted products. Part Two of Gesteland's book, "International Negotiator Profiles," seeks to organize the many, diverse cultures and markets into units that correspond to the types of cultural values and behavioral patterns outlined in Part One, including the binary structures of formal vs. informal, relationship- vs. deal-focused, expressive vs. reserved, and polychronic vs. monochronic.

Regarding Gesteland's objective and targeted audience, he states in the Introduction that Cross-Cultural Business Behavior "is intended as a practical guide for the men and women in the front lines of world trade, those who face every day the frustrating differences in global business customs and practices" (9). His stated objective is clearly maintained throughout the book, which is largely offered as a "guide," or introductory reference to the potential problems in cross-cultural communication and possible means of anticipating and preventing those problems and misunderstandings. Part of this then, is the strongly implied purpose of attempting to provide a simple means of moving beyond what he calls "frustrations," or cultural differences as barriers, in order to buy, sell, or source in a variety of national cultures. Based upon this simple approach to cultural understanding as a means to the implicitly separate goal of conducting business, as well as to the sheer number of national cultures that are categorized into certain behavioral patterns, Gesteland targets perhaps those who frequently enter unfamiliar business cultures and need a quick reference guide to complement other usual sources that would presumably include knowledgeable business partners and contacts native to the target culture.

The specific structural patterns and contents of the book also speak to the objectives and target audience, as each chapter is essentially structured around the "patterns approach" that Gesteland mentions in his introduction. Most of the chapters in Part One begin by introducing the central cultural concept of the given chapter, usually a contrastive one (such as Deal vs. Relationship business cultures), then providing a simple graph and following commentary to illustrate the concept at hand, which is followed by a case study which, while written in the third-person, are taken from the author's first-hand international business experience. The cases and the often accompanying analyses are clearly relevant to the conceptual observations being discussed, and being informally written and entertaining, often successfully induce the reader's investment in the contents and argument being made. However, this simultaneously runs the risk, evident in the whole of Part One, of making the arguments and analyses, from a cultural standpoint, overly reductive. Similarly, Part Two, while providing both highly interesting observations and a comfortable predictability in its structures, argues, perhaps unintentionally, for a similar predictability in cross-cultural contact. Readers should pay close attention to Mr. Gesteland's too infrequent reminders that his suggestions are not all-inclusive, an important point that is perhaps undermined by the attempts to explain the highly individualized, subjective nature of any intra-and intercultural communicative situation by way of seeking to provide recommendations for cross-cultural behavior in the guide-book formula.

This, in fact, is the overall weakness of Cross-Cultural Business Behavior. To conclude, then, we can see this most clearly in three related, specific, potential problems the book raises. First, although Gesteland does sometimes refer to his own perspective as an American within certain of his own international experiences, he at times fails to acknowledge this cultural perspective when recording his observations on other cultures. This becomes most problematic when, in extreme cases, the observations can become judgmental, even culturally insensitive as, for example, he partly describes his experience of heavy drinking as part of the relationship-building process of some Asian markets in saying "women usually don't fit in at these quasi-adolescent male bonding rituals" (29). Secondly, as mentioned, the book perhaps tries to include too much, reducing the dynamics of culture to predictable patterns of behavior. And, this itself raises the third problem that readers should consider, which is that in seeking to provide somewhat reliable advice for adapting to a vast number of target business cultures, the argument of the book implicitly reverses the precedent of culture over business and, in so doing, fails to consider intercultural unpredictability, raising questions of what may occur in negotiations between two vastly different cultural representatives who have expectations of the other based upon Gesteland's observations. While the many variables in such a situation cannot be accounted for, the very dynamics of intercultural communication could be more strongly addressed. This being said, however, the book is not without merit, and aside from its many interesting, entertaining case studies and personal style, readers can benefit in referring to it with Gesteland's own stated intentions in mind: "as a practical guide for ... those who face every day the frustrating differences in global business customs and practices" (9).

Carey Mickalites, Scientific Shift, Interkulturelle Wirtschaftskommunikation, Friedrich-Schiller-Universitat, Jena
Gale Copyright:
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.