I must admit to being slightly sensitive about society’s need for extreme sensitivity. For goodness’s sake, make sure you don’t offend anyone about anything! That can be tricky when those that were born to be indignant start the day with their hackles up, ready to be mortified by the merest inkling of cultural insensitivity. Having said that, there is a practical side to this thinking that can make a serious difference to the speed with which trust can be formed between Kiwis and everyone else they want to do business with around the world.
I won’t delve into non-English speaking countries, because each of those warrants its own little nuance handbook. But for the US and UK, New Zealanders should be aware that they can retain their self-proclaimed natural charm, without bulldozing their way into a deal (or possibly out of one) using the same techniques that seem to work at home. How did I learn these things? Hands on experience. And watching some loud talkers in various Air NZ lounges making complete d**ks of themselves.
1. Dress up, not down
Yes, we want to show warmth and humanity. I get that. But dressing formally for a business meeting shows you respect your host and you are taking the discussion seriously. Shirts untucked? Not so much.
In California, you’ll often be the best dressed person in the room. That doesn’t matter. Do it anyway. By and large, the casual style attitude for most New Zealanders makes them look like a bunch of amateurs when they show up to a meeting with stylish Brits or Americans. A tie isn’t always essential, but wear a jacket at least. (Not a Kathmandu jacket!)
2. Don’t start every sentence with “Yeah well, in New Zealand, we …”
We’re proud of lots of things in New Zealand. Our flat whites. Our dairy products. Our rugby prowess. Here’s a suggestion. Let your hosts draw that out naturally when they speak with you and ask you specific questions. Unless you work in the tourism industry, you don’t need to sell New Zealand every time you open your enthusiastic gob. It’s annoying. Try enquiring about your host country instead. It makes you a better listener, and therefore, more likeable, and easier to do a deal with. And it may be obvious, but never criticise your host country in any way whatsoever. “Jeeze, you call that an oyster? Our Bluffies are half the price and twice the size.” Idiot.
3. Don’t drink like an idiot
Probably a good general rule of thumb, but because Kiwis in general are almost Neanderthal when it comes to the business drinks situation, it needs special mention here. Getting on the turps is never a good idea in a foreign country. Exercise a bit of self-control, quietly sip the local brew recommended by your host, and don’t ask for Steinlager Pure or talk about how much you chugged back on the flight over.
4. Stay calm, speak slower, avoid unnecessary vernacular and don’t swear
Our accent is a challenge, not so much to the Brits or US East Coasters, but it becomes very tricky for a mixed racial profile audience when you charge through the chat like a bull at a gate, spewing f-bombs and thinking you’re just being a good bugger. Truth: your audience is attempting to be respectful, while they smile and laugh and feel fairly bewildered at what you’re trying to express. Never, ever swear in the office, especially in the US, and even if your host drops one unexpectedly. Just smile, genuinely, more than normal. That’ll get your audience onside.
5. Invest in the right technology to tell your story
If you’ve got a presentation to make, don’t stride into the room with nothing but your 2007 dented Dell and the PowerPoint you put together with some free clipart the night before. Get the latest iPad. Grab an HDMI and VGA connection cable. Bring supplementary audio (like a Bose Bluetooth speaker) and wow them with how slick your show is (er, make sure your show is slick. Get specialist help with that as well!). Nothing says you are a consummate professional more than your ability to make an outstanding first impression. Some US citizens are not aware that we utilise electricity or have cities in New Zealand. Instead, prove that we’re technically cutting edge.
Mix some good manners, sharp technology and a little local awareness with your Kiwi charm. Then go get that deal done!
Adam Blackwell is the founder of Stun, a creative agency that builds engaging presentations, and co-founder of sales training app developer Showcase.