“Yes, no or maybe”. The diplomat and the lady.

So when does “yes” mean “yes” and when does “no” mean “no”?

Well it depends. On what, you might well ask?

It depends on who is speaking: who they are, their culture, gender and role. Some of these factors and at times all of them. There is more to this than meets the eye. Let me start with an anecdote told to me by the French trade commissioner in Wellington some years ago.  The original French translates well into English as it probably does into many languages, except one like Thai that apparently has no word for “no”.

“What is the difference between a lady and a diplomat?”

  • If a lady says “no”, she means “maybe”.
  • If  lady says “maybe”, she means “yes”.
  • If a lady says “yes”, she is no lady.
  • Now if a diplomat says “yes”, he means “maybe”. (Don’t blame me for being sexist, I am merely an accurate translator)
  • If a diplomat says “maybe”, he means “no”.
  • Finally if a diplomat says “no”, he is no diplomat!

Another way of looking at this is to contrast honesty and politeness.  A wonderful way to illustrate the dichotomy is the following saying:

“The Dutch are too honest to be polite and the New Zealanders are too polite to be honest.” Watch the DVD “Here to Stay Series 2“.

I can relate to this very well from my time as NZ Trade Commissioner to Germany & Switzerland, when I was based in Hamburg.  The North Germans are very direct and you always know where you stand.  Hamburg is in stark contrast to Vienna, where people can be polite, but don’t take what they say at face value.

What is the moral of this story? Be aware of culture and the situation. In a business setting the confusion is more likely to be associated with “yes” , which could mean any one of: yes, maybe or no.  Forewarned is forearmed!

Simon Fawkes
Business to Markets Ltd

“We won’t drop the ball”. A great catchphrase or perhaps not?

I was in my car and the van in front caught my attention as I was waiting for the lights to turn green. Unlike “Indian Weddings“, there is no photo this time. There are two reasons for this:

  • I argue that this is not such a great catchphrase, but I do not want to publically criticise the company.
  • I was in my car and for once the traffic lights were not stuck on red for ages.

What could be wrong with this catchphrase?  Well quite a few things:

  • It is “catchy” if you excuse the pun, but what sticks in your mind? The answer is “drop the ball”.  That is a negative.  Your subconscious mind associates the company with a negative:  “drop the ball”.
  • Not everyone is a sports fan who instantly understands what this means: we won’t let you down. This is also a negative.
  • The catchphrase does not have any association with the products or services offered by this company.

So what should you do?

  • Accentuate the positive.  “You can rely on us” would be better.
  • Have some association with what you actually do!  “Carters, your building partner” is an example of this.
  • Be distinctive without being offensive or too smart.
  • Be clear about your target market (demographic and psychographic) and consider both the company and the people you need to influence.
  • Test your catchphrase to see how memorable it is and whether it sends the signals you would like to convey.

When is the best time to throw someone a life belt?

“Well of course, when someone is in trouble and even in danger of drowning.”

This is not such a dumb question when you realise that this is a simple but effective analogy that can be applied in business.

This comment came up in conversation when the person I was having coffee with said he would judge when the timing was right to approach someone on my behalf.

What point was I trying to make? If we go back to the life belt analogy, there is no point offering the “best and smartest”  life belt to people who:

  • don’t go swimming
  • don’t enjoy going to the beach
  • are not already in the water!

If there is no need or no awareness of the need, your efforts to offer the life belt will ineffective. At  best you might be dismissed politely, you could well be seen as a bit cranky or a nuisance, or even both!

So why don’t more people apply this simple lesson in business?

  • Learn to observe someone’s situation and judge their mental state.
  • Ask probing questions that are not too intrusive.
  • Work out what stage they are at, making initial enquiries or wanting to make a decision right now?

So next time you are eagerly trying to sell your product or service, take a moment to think about the life belt.

Watch “The Kiwi who saved Britain” on TV1, 25 April.

Watch “The Kiwi who saved Britain” on TV1 from 5.00 to 6.00 pm on Sunday 25 April 2010. This is part of the ANZAC day commemorations.

This is the dramatised story of New Zealander Keith Park who led the RAF into battle against Hitler’s Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain.  He is one of New Zealand’s greatest heroes, but one who is barely known here.

The TV programme includes an interview with Stephen Bungay, author of “The most dangerous enemy: A History of the Battle of Britain“. The title is interesting as the reference to “most dangerous enemy” is not what an English-speaking reader might expect.  It comes from a quote by a German colonel who was describing the British.

Amongst other things, Stephen’s book was the inspiration for the campaign to have a statue of Sir Keith Park erected in Trafalgar Square in London.

I refer the author as Stephen as we have known each other for 35 years. We met at Freiburg University in Germany when we were on the same German scholarship programme for a most enjoyable year.  I have not seen any preview of the programme, but Stephen has appeared in a number of TV programmes in Britain. He is a font of knowledge about the Battle of Britain and also a very entertaining presenter.  You will not be disappointed!

“Key Elements of Social Media in the US” a great webinar by Ronnie Peters

There can be no better way to promote a recording of a social media webinar than using social media!

Here it is: http://bit.ly/dC7c9i. It is well worth watching and contains a wealth of information and good advice that can be applied in many markets, not just the US.

Alexei  Dunayev from NZTE has actively encouraged all the participants to spread the word, which is just what I am doing here.

Do connect with him on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/in/dunayev) to stay touch about social media-related topics, and learn about upcoming webinars we are holding as part of the US Market Growth project at NZTE.