I like clarity. Whenever I make a proposal to a prospective client, I like to hear within reasonable time how we are taking it forward. Do I need to alter the proposal? Do we continue as proposed? Or does the client decide not to go forward with me?

In case of a deal or a desired alteration of the proposal, I often receive communication back in a quick and clear manner. However, the message of a clear NO is sometimes less easy. In some cases, feedback is hard to get and over time the conversation about the proposal fades away. It leaves me in a certain state of unclarity and I keep wondering why I am not receiving a reply. 

During a recent Alliance Masterclass in Singapore I realised once again that the situation around saying NO could be culturally driven. One of the attendees shared that her company often lets an alliance fade out instead of canceling it. In my clarity driven approach, at first sight, this did not make much sense. Why would you continue with an alliance that should be terminated given its lack of performance? From a cultural perspective, however, it could mean that one of the partners would risk losing face when the other partner cancels the alliance. 

That puts saying NO into a different context! At hindsight it might help me clarify why in some situations I never received a clear answer myself: not receiving a Yes is also a No.  

Cultural sensitivity is essential in international business. Try to step out of your cultural comfort zone during your next international alliance endeavours and consider what it can mean for your partner.


PS: The Culture Map* by Erin Meyer is a highly recommended book that helps to understand cultural differences and how to deal with them. This page gives a quick overview of “Saving face vs losing face” when traveling in Asia.