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Managing Your Expectations When Doing Business Overseas

09 Feb
the manana attitude and expectations overseas

Managing Your Expectations When Doing Business Overseas

Your Only Defense In The Developing World

A talk show host in the U.K. has Julio Iglesias on as a guest. He starts talking to him about the Spanish language…

They come around to the word mañana, and the host asks Julio what, exactly, it means to a Spanish speaker. Julio responds to explain that, in the context of getting something done, mañana means “tomorrow… or the next day… or, well, eventually we’ll get to it… ”

The guest from the previous segment on the show is sitting next to Julio. He’s an Irish singer. The host asks him if there’s a similar word in Gaelic.

After thinking for a few seconds, the Irish guest replies, “No, not really. We Irish don’t have a word that implies that sense of urgency.”

When you start living and investing globally, you’re going to encounter people operating on different time tables than you, not only in Latin America, but everywhere.

Show any sense of impatience or make any suggestion for increased efficiencies, and the response will likely be something like: “What’s the hurry, friend?”

The “take life as it comes” mentality of developing countries is one reason opportunity exists in these places. But it can also become the bane of your existence when you’re trying to get things done. Whether it leads to frustration or an aneurysm depends on how you set your expectations… and how you manage things, including your temper.

Expectations Around The World

Once when living in Ireland, an electrician said he’d be at the house at 10 a.m. on a Saturday to fix a broken fixture.

Saturday came and went, but no electrician showed up. He didn’t show, he didn’t call, and he never did explain why he hadn’t made it. On Monday, I called another electrician who came out Tuesday to fix the light.

Two Saturdays later, the first electrician showed up, all smiles, as though this were the day he was supposed to have appeared. He was incredulous when I told him that we had already called another electrician who had already come and gone and fixed the problem.

In the first guy’s mind, it wasn’t a big deal to stand up a client, to fail to communicate, or to show up when he felt like it (most likely when he’d run out of pub money).

Deadlines mean little in many parts of the world. But what can be much more frustrating for us direct-talking Americans is that, in most cultures, people don’t like to say no.

They prefer to tell you “yes” (yes, they can meet you on Thursday… yes, they can direct you to wherever it is you’re going… yes, they can fix your leaking faucet) and then make up excuses later for why they couldn’t do any of those things, even if they knew at the time there was no way they could do those things.

They aren’t lying to you or even, in their minds, misleading you. They’re telling you what they think you want to hear, because they don’t want to disappoint you.

Sometimes the excuses are real, or at least seem to be, as was the case with a mattress delivery in Medellín recently…

The delivery was promised for Monday. We called Monday morning to reconfirm (you learn to reconfirm every delivery and every meeting in Latin America). When the mattress hadn’t arrived by lunchtime, we called again. When the mattress hadn’t arrived by 4 p.m., we called again. Finally, at 8 p.m., the delivery guy stopped answering his cell phone.

The Mattress Store's Story

The next morning, we made a trip to the mattress store, where we got this story:

The delivery driver had been stopped by the police the day before for a traffic violation. Unfortunately, the driver had an outstanding warrant, so he and the truck (and its contents) had been taken into custody.

Our mattress was in the hoosegow.

A new mattress finally showed up at our apartment Tuesday night. We still don’t know if the first mattress got out on bail or not.

The stories can get worse than what you might expect from a 12-year-old who keeps forgetting to do his homework. Some will be true, some won’t. You’ll never know the difference, and it doesn’t really matter.

The point is that whatever you’re expecting to be done usually won’t get done, at least not when you’re expecting it to be done.

They will wonder why you care, why you’re upset. It’s not a big deal. It’ll get done mañana.

They don’t understand that you had something else planned or scheduled for mañana, something else that now can’t get done because you’re still going to be messing around trying to accomplish what you thought you were going to be accomplishing today.

Your only defense is to manage your expectations while maintaining your standards. Plan ahead. And follow up.

And follow up…

And follow up…

Lief Simon