A couple of months ago I decided to buy a car, so I did my research, shopped around and did a few test drives and finally decided on a particular car. The car still needed to be manufactured and then shipped to the region. The delivery would take about 4 months. We agreed on the colour and other details. I signed a contract and paid a sum of money to secure my order.
Two months passed, and my circumstances slightly changed, so I went to the dealer whose headquarters is based in the United States. I explained the change in my situation and asked to cancel my order. Knowing that the car has already been manufactured I requested that they give my turn in the queue to any new customer who would like the same car with the same specs. They had a long waiting list so that should not be a problem. The manager said they would happily do that but unfortunately they would not be able to refund me the money I paid!! A discussion ensued.
Now anyone from the Innocence VS Guilt world view of North America, Western Europe and Australia would immediately say: “You signed a contract; we cannot break the rules. The contract is sacred. If you change your mind you lose the money.”
While anyone from the honour based culture of the Arab world, South America and parts of the Mediterranean would say: “Flexibility and keeping the customer happy is more important. I am not asking you to break the law but you can find a way to make this work for the benefit of everyone involved.”
This is one example of such clashes that happen every day when people and businesses from differing world views interact and contracts are involved.
Of course I did not want anyone to break any kind of law, but the company could have easily shown some flexibility and transferred my order to a new customer. The new customer would have been extremely happy because he would not have to wait for 5 months to receive his car, and I would have been very happy getting my money back, the reputation of the company in the country would have benefited greatly as a company that really understands the market and puts the people first. No laws would have been broken. It would be a win-win all around and everyone would be happy.
But this kind of behaviour would cause severe stress and would sound off so many alarm bells for someone coming from a strong Innocence VS Guilt worldview where the contract is far more important than the people involved and abiding by the contract to the letter is a value in of itself.
While for someone from this part of the world – which let me assure you, is not the land of lawlessness where everything goes – laws and rules are respected and the legal system is well and alive. However, here, flexibility when permissible is seen as far more important. And rigidity is seen as a stumbling block to doing further business.
I know you must be thinking: “so where do you draw the line?”
I suppose this is where the subtle knowledge of locals to the culture becomes extremely valuable. An Arab would inherently know that being flexible in this case would not lead to chaos. And that working to find a solution that can help everyone is in the benefit of the company and its work in that country and culture.
Many large businesses that operate in cultures that are very different from their own, have learned that they must adjust their practices and their style to suit the local culture they are in if they want to prosper and succeed. A lot of other car companies operating here have learned that lesson and have learned the importance of flexibility with a culture that finds it incredibly difficult – due to intrinsic fatalistic beliefs – to plan so far ahead. This is when a business becomes culturally intelligent.