International business: The Cultural Divide

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The word “yes” is spoken. Heads nod. You think you’re about to ink the deal, then silence. It turns out that “yes” really meant, “We hear you,” not, “We agree.” The problem could be a clash of cultures, whether you’re working with a prospective client or supplier or, as Japanese giant Sony learned, even your own subsidiary.

A few years ago, Sony experienced a silent revolution that delayed a major IT project for two years because the Miami-based Japanese project leaders working on the project for Latin America “didn’t understand why employees would not do what they were told to do,” recalls Cesar Aguirre, then a senior Sony HR executive. The project’s Latin American constituents said they weren’t consulted and felt rebuffed when they offered suggestions.

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