Bridging the Gap

Edition: November 2005 - Vol 13 Number 11
Article#: 2267
Author: Repertoire

Don’t be afraid of the differences between you and those with whom you work. Instead, accept those differences; enjoy them. And make sure you do your best to understand them.

That is the advice of Robert Schwarz, national director of Mars Venus Workplace Seminars and Consulting, Media, Pa., who gave a presentation on “Selling effectively to different genders and cultures” at HIDA 2005 MedSurg Conference & Expo.

Chuck the golden rule

Although many Americans were brought up to revere the Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”), people should understand that the maxim doesn’t always work in today’s multicultural work environment. It doesn’t even work when dealing with people of the opposite sex. “We assume other people are just like us,” says Schwarz. “Although we share many common traits, there are differences, and they can be significant.” Schwarz’s advice, then, is to shelve the Golden Rule with the so-called Platinum Rule: “Do unto others as they would want to be done to.”

The Platinum Rule calls for knowledge and sensitivity of others, says Schwarz. Understanding gender and cultural differences can lead to mutual respect and acceptance, improved cooperation and teamwork, enhanced trust and consideration, and increased efficiency and productivity. “The more you’re dealing with someone who feels they’re different, the more important trust becomes,” he says. “You have to work a little harder to gain their trust.”

He offered sales reps some “skeleton keys” for successful multicultural relationships:

• Recognize that differences do exist among cultures and the sexes. Assume your customers will have different cultural understandings than you.

• Take time to learn about their culture, especially in relation to the products or services you sell. (For example, if you sell needles, investigate how people in different cultures feel about pain and needles.)

• Research how people of different cultures feel about the sales process itself, and about salespeople.

• Learn how the culture deals with technology.

• Make an effort to learn about the symbols and metaphors of the country in question.

• Try to learn a few conversational phrases in different languages. “It doesn’t take a lot, and it makes people feel like you care,” says Schwarz.

• Ask the customer about any cultural barriers or disconnects that might have disrupted their relationships with salespeople in the past.

• Talk to a trusted friend or colleague who is of the gender or cultural background of your customer(s). Find out what you need to know in order to avoid stepping on toes.

• Analyze your sales figures to different genders or cultures. Are you underperforming insofar as sales to a particular group? If so, make an effort to figure out the problem.

• Be sensitive to the communication styles of the people to whom you are selling, and adjust your personal communication style to fit them. For example, people from the Middle East are not afraid to express emotions in their exchanges; they swing their arms, raise their voices, and move close to the person with whom they are dealing. Many people from Asian cultures, however, are more reserved, displaying little emotion in their encounters with people. Differences exist even between men and women, says Schwarz. For example, men nod their heads when they agree with you. But women nod their heads to say, “I’m listening … tell me more.” But that doesn’t necessarily mean they agree with what you’re saying.

Finally, and paradoxically, be careful of stereotyping the people with whom you are dealing. Yes, cultural differences are real, but don’t lose sight of the other’s humanity.

Navigating through gender differences

Sales reps don’t have to deal with someone from a different country in order to experience “cultural” differences. Women and men are as far apart as, well, Venus and Mars. Although all of us have a bit of Venusian and Martian in us, generally speaking, women tend toward the Venusian side, men toward the Martian (although women are becoming more Martian on the job). What are the differences? Here are a few:

• Martians prefer to cut to the chase and talk about solutions — fast. Venusians, on the other hand, are more interested in exploring the nature of the problem, at least for awhile. Sales reps who jump to solutions with a Venusian risk losing the sale.

• Martians want to get to the bottom line quickly. “What will it cost?” “Will it solve my problem?” But Venusians are content to talk about a number of issues before they get to the bottom line.

• Martians respond well to a strong, can-do attitude. When they interview job candidates, they gravitate toward the take-charge type. Venusians, on the other hand, respond better to people who take the time to listen to their problems and concerns.

• Martians love technology; Venusians focus more on relationships.

• Martians love “state-of-the-artness,” but Venusians value reliability much more.

In any discussion or sales call, Martians want to get to the big issues ASAP. Sales reps dealing with Venusians, however, can be assured that the first thing that comes up in the discussion is NOT the biggest issue. In fact, a true Venusian will expect the salesperson to do some digging to find out for himself what the Venusian’s big issue or hot button is.

Martians focus on cost-effectiveness; Venusians focus on customer satisfaction and service.

Martians like to hear their sales reps promise the sky so long as they deliver. Venusians prefer to hear, “I don’t know the answer to your question; I’ll get back to you.” Still, a Venusian expects that rep to get back to her.

On Mars, if you make a mistake, you better give some reasons. On Venus, reasons don’t count so much as acknowledgement of one’s mistakes.

Bottom line: On Mars, above all else, be a problem-solver. On Venus, solve less; listen more.