Cultural intelligence

Israel – Hard shell, soft centre

Israel lies on the south eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea and has a population of nearly 8 million.

The typical Israeli’s direct and honest approach may sometimes be taken as arrogance.  The Western visitor’s courtesy and respect may, in turn, be viewed as weakness, so it is important for both sides to understand each other’s cultural traits before going into business together.  The native-born Israeli is referred to as a “Sabra”, taken from the Sabra cactus plant – very thorny and threatening on the outside and very sweet and soft inside!

Meetings are often spontaneous and punctuality is relaxed.  Wear formal business attire for a first meeting and follow your host’s mode of dress subsequently.  Meetings may be interrupted by telephone calls or an outsider entering the meeting room.  This should not be construed as rudeness. Israelis are competent multi-taskers and try to do many things at the same time.

Lunch or breakfast meetings are not popular, although a sandwich lunch in the office is common.  Dinner is an excellent opportunity to discuss family, compliment Israeli culture, history or sports and continue with business discussions.  Do not speak of Israeli politics or religious issues unless your host raises the topic, in which case be a good listener.

Israel is a young society where trauma and war has been the norm.  As a result, most Israelis are impatient and try to get the most out of each and every day.  If you are negotiating and talking in terms of months or years, you may lose your partner’s interest or they may not view you as serious.  Try to speak realistically in terms of days and weeks.

Israeli business people enjoy negotiating and approach it in a robust manner. It is vital to get things in writing and a letter of intent or a contract will leave no room for misunderstandings in the future.  Do not bring a lawyer to the meetings, rather send your lawyer all the papers and contracts for review.

Share your Israeli business experiences.

Sources: Wikipedia, Ministry of Economy, State of Israel

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