THE FOUR FRIENDS AND ENEMIES OF SUCCESS IN RUSSIA (The X-factor in inter-cultural business)

Experience shows that foreigners who are successful in Russia have an intercultural X-Factor. This intercultural X-Factor consists of four key-behaviours: curiosity, empathy, kindness, and consistency. At the same time, these people avoid four behaviours that lead to failure in intercultural business: assumption, self-centeredness, indifference, and inconsistency.

Since my arrival to Russia in 1994 I have helped close to two-thousand companies to deal with the specifics of marketing, sales, distribution, certification, logistics and building a business in Russia. I have addressed tens of thousands of people who attended my presentations explaining the differences between Russia and the West and how to deal with these differences successfully. I have trained many Russian and Western professionals to become more effective communicators, managers, and negotiators in Russian-Western situations. 

I have been explaining Russia to foreigners for more than a quarter of a century now. After so many years I still enjoy sharing my knowledge of Russia’s history, culture, language, and business practices. This is because it is an important part of my personal and professional vision that consists of building bridges between people and businesses. At the same time, I have come to realize that having mere factual knowledge about Russia is not a guarantee for being successful in Russian-Western business. Much like in music, where a person can know all there is to know about pitch, rhythm, dynamics, and timbre, but still be a poor musician. To play or compose music well, you need to have an X-Factor consisting of aptitude, talent, and attitude. The same applies to being successful in Russian-Western relations and business. Being learned and informed about Russia is not enough. For real success in Russia, you need to have the intercultural X-Factor consisting of four key-behaviours: curiosity, empathy, kindness, and consistency. 

I have seen people who learned all there is to know about Russia fail miserably in their Russian business. At the same time, I have seen first-timers with no previous knowledge or experience in Russia succeed because they were curious, empathic, kind, and consistent. Inter-cultural knowledge is important, but without the right attitude it will not bring you very far. One the other hand, when you have the right attitude, then you can do business all over the world without having special inter-cultural knowledge.

To understand this better I have listed below the “Four Friends & Enemies of Success in Russia”. For brevity’s sake I limit the article to providing two short lists of key-points.

The Four Friends of Success in Russia are:
1. Curiosity (Understand)
              a. Never stop learning about the country, business culture, market reality and about the individual companies you work with
              b. Avoid making assumptions
              c. Ask questions (funnel your questions: open, alternative, closed)
              d. Inquire
              e. Learn
              f. Be interested in the life-stories of the people you are dealing with
              g. Understand the needs, motivations, and interests of your counterparts
              h. Be pro-active
              i. Keep your options open
              j. Understand and focus on your sales potential
2. Empathy (Accept)
              a. Understand the reality of the Russian market (Accept it as a given as you are not going to change it)
              b. Understand the reality of your Russian counterpart (Their needs, motivations, capabilities, and   the difficulties they may be dealing with under the Russian market conditions)
              c. Apply an individual and flexible approach to each counterpart
              d. Practice ‘give-and-take’ communication
              e. Maintain constructive dialogues
              f. Express mutual interest
              g. Work towards partnership-style relationships
              h. Create the pull of demand instead of pushing your product on the market
3. Kindness (Respect)
              a. Be pro-active, open, and inclusive
              b. Use an engaging style of communication
              c. Nurture informal contacts and personal relationships
              d. Keep the dialogue ongoing – while being selective about the commitments you make
              e. Be sincere, even in the case of disagreement, displeasure, or dislike
              f. Keep your options open
4. Consistency (Act)
              a. Remain consistent in the content of your communication
              b. Explain at the end of each discussion how and when you will follow up
              c. Communicate when you cannot follow up as promised
              d. Ask what the best way is to stay in contact and who to include in your communication
              e. Keep regular phone contact in between meetings
              f. Keep the initiative
              g. Be responsive
              h. Be pro-active
              i. Keep your finger on the pulse (stay in the driver’s seat)
              j. Keep your options open while organically funneling sales opportunities
              k. Strategize, decide, act

Consequently, The Four Enemies of Success in Russia are:
1. Assumption
              a. Projecting knowledge and experience gained in other markets onto the Russian market
              b. Not learning from progressive insights to adjust the approach to the market
              c. Not adapting the approach per specific target company in the market
              d. Judging on external impressions like command of English or type of office, production facilities, or warehouse
2. Self-centeredness
              a. Not being able to place oneself in the position of the Russian company
              b. Not having an eye for the reality of the Russian company
              c. Not communicating mutual benefit (a “you need us more than we need you” approach doesn’t work in   Russia)
              i. Russians will never admit that they “need” anything.
              d. Thinking that we can change the Russian market
              e. Not creating a personal relationship
3. Indifference
              a. Maintaining our own style of communication
              b. Imposing our own rules of the game
              c. Maintaining a formal “one size fits all” approach
              d. Hidden antipathy, arrogance, or condescension (Russians have a 6th sense for hidden negative       attitudes or insincerities)
4. Inconsistency
              a. Inconsistency in content communication and signals of communication
              b.Not following up on communication and promises

These ‘Four Friends & Enemies of Success in Russia’ do not come out of any textbooks. They come out of the daily reality of 26 years in Russian-Western intercultural business and life. Reality shows that it is easier said than done to unswervingly practice curiosity, empathy, kindness, and consistency. I am the first to break my own rules when business gets tough, confused, and heated. But despite my mistakes I have always benefited from reminding myself that what counts is not the situation on the market, nor my knowledge of the market, but my attitude towards the individual people on the market. Because in the end, the biggest barrier in inter-cultural business is not created by other people’s differences but by our own attitude towards these differences.

(This is only a short summary of the ‘Four Friends & Enemies of Success in Intercultural Business’. If you want to know more, do not hesitate to let me know.)

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