As a corporate director of global marketing, a former Coke executive (in 190 countries around the world) and an instructor of Global Marketing at UCLAx: I could not be more cross-culturally inclined. So, with all the authority that I can muster, I tell you this.
There is zero communication between people of different countries or cultures.
To be successful, you must start with the belief that you are not just talking a different language than the other party: you are talking about concepts that you in no way share with anyone from another country or culture. Of course, culture means you don’t have to step outside your own office or Skype to dust up the differences.
What differs between cultures? The meaning of everything.
“Funds are being wired to you today.” That has no meaning whatsoever.
Neither do documents they sign. Leases. Contracts. Approvals.
Nor conventional business practices like paying employees. Paying rent. Paying any bill. Bank accounts having money in them. Reimbursing expenses. Having reasonable inventory on hand. Gluten-free, fragrance free and sulfate-free.
None of those concepts are universal.
In fact, the violation of what may seem like really basic business 101 procedures, or illegal business practices and ethics to you? Not even close to what the other party believes the definitions or boundaries are.
Hence, among the questions I ask most in global business right now is this.
How MANY is amazing? This in response to:
“We had an amazing response at the trade show.”
“We have an amazing number of products in our line.”
“The media coverage was amazing.”
Once again, I ask. How many is amazing?
Because, as a classically trained and practicing marketer: I have metrics on my mind. Simple ones like: we need a specific number of qualified prospects to sign up as actual customers, to generate measurable income to sustain or grow a business.
Of course, growth is anther concept that is not universal.
For me, growth means more revenue and profit. Increasing the product line, when you see evidence of sales from other products. Expanding to other countries as your current markets generate the income to do so.
Because metrics don’t mean a thing if the other party simply rages at vendors who want to be paid. Not apologetic. They get righteously angry at an unpaid vendor who won’t ship more? Who knew? They want you to convince the vendor, landlord, or clients that zero is one million dollars? Apparently this is done in other lands, just not one on planet Earth as I know it.
So fair warning. Do not believe anything from anyone. Do not think you heard what you heard, even though you recorded the conversation (with everyone’s permission). Listening to that audio over and over to see what went wrong? It will only drive you insane.
In order to have any communication, you have to believe you have nothing in common: not language, not meaning, and not intention. It’s exactly as Jim Camp says in his book about successful negotiations among any two parties, Start with NO!
As the distance between us all grows smaller, because WhatsApp, Skype, Facetime and jet airplanes make the world seem like we are all in this together: you realize one thing.
How far from each other we truly are.
Narcissists are among the most interesting coworkers. They are also repugnant, disruptive and poisonous to a business, and potentially to your career. That is, if your narcissist sees you as anything except a reflection of his or her greatness. So, you must interact with your narcissist as if everything she does deserves nothing but positive regard and appreciation. Otherwise, expect that your narcissist will attempt to destroy you.
Actually, no matter what you do: your narcissist will attempt to destroy you.
Our office narcissist has picked on everyone except me. That is, until Friday. Then, she pointed her ugly, crazy, manic, depressed, stressed-out-because-I-don’t-have-enough-work-to-do-but-I-have-too-much-work-to-do tantrum in front of me. This came right after it took me 30 seconds to find an important corporate contract that an investor said he needed. It had been created long before I arrived. Our narcissist said the document didn’t exist. After all, she had spent 5 days “looking for it.”
So there I was holding it in my hand after near-zero effort to get it. And my ease of finding it tripped the venom in her mouth to spew. At one point there were words like “you never had a friend” and “you think you know everything” coming like projectile vomit at me. “Stop,” I said. “Go away. I have to get this document to the investor.”
Ten minutes later, she walked by my office and stopped in the doorway. “Oh,” she said. “You’re still working? It’s after hours – do you want me to stay and help you?”
A dead calm hit me.
And in that moment of pure serenity, I had the epiphany.
OMG. She’s a malignant narcissist! A rare breed.
These are people who work to make trouble and cause distress, then reverse on you to suddenly become helpful and appear goodnatured. M. Scott Peck does a great job of describing malignant narcissists in his book, People of the Lie.
The thesis of Peck’s monumental work is this. These people are the evil in the human race.
They have a self-image of perfection. Excessive intolerance of criticism. Scapegoating. Disguise and pretense. Intellectual deviousness. Greed. Coercion and control of others. Symbiotic relationships. Lack of empathy.
So it took two months to actually “diagnose” her, just in time for our malignant narcissist to give her 30 days notice. When we gratefully accepted? She changed her mind. After all, as a malignant narcissist: you believe giving and taking back your resignation would be your right.
This will be an eventful week. We anticipate lots of (false) accusations, blaming, crying, sick days, and precision attacks on the character of others. That is, after all, how we went from “Isn’t she amazing?” to “What’s wrong with her?” At least now we are over the confusion – which is the first sign that you have an malignant narcissist.
She’s not crazy. She’s not suffered any misfortune. She is simply a bad apple, as organizational psychologist Adam Grant calls these folks. Or evil, as the renowned psychiatrist Peck calls them.
For the rest of us good eggs, it’s been a startling realization.
So, if you have been confused, aggravated and disrupted by a co-worker, subordinate or superior: wow! Isn’t it nice to know there’s a diagnosis for these folks? And, as a boss I find it reassuring to learn there is no amount of training, no amount of support and even no magnitude of praise that I could muster to help her.
I had a plant like this in the outer reaches of my property at home. The plant is called poison ivy. It makes you itch, blister and scar. It looks benign, even nice. But, it’s poisonous. Just have to cut it out. Then the rest of the plants can blossom.
And so we will.