Doing business with Israelis

To mark Israel’s 70th Independence Day, which recently took place, we would like to use today’s blog post to focus on the Israeli culture and its effects on the business world. 

On April 19, Israel celebrated its 70th birthday. This official national holiday [Yom Ha’atzmaut] ranks among the most important days in the Jewish calendar. This year, the fallen were commemorated with music, fireworks, small street festivals and a ceremony at Mount Herzl. We would like to mark the occasion of this anniversary by explaining some characteristics of the Israeli culture in more detail.

Proximity, informality and directness

If you come into direct contact with Israelis, you’ll likely notice that they handle issues of proximity and distance a bit differently. This is manifested in a variety of ways. For instance, the bodily distance between two people, even those who don’t necessarily know each other well, is often smaller and can occasionally involve bodily contact. This issue also turns up in casual interactions in the business world. Moreover, forms of address that are meant to be polite and respectful in some cultures [like Mr. and Ms.] are rarely used in Israel, because people there – regardless of rank and age – tend to prefer to be addressed by their first names.

cross-cultural training, Israel, cross-cultural training Israel, informality, proximity, discussionThe dress code in Israel also tends to be more casual than in many western companies [where suits are standard]. On top of that, communication is typically much more direct than in many other countries. Israelis get to the point faster and express criticism with little wriggling [this is known as “dugri” in Hebrew] without endangering their relationships.

Please keep in mind that the degree of directness that some Israelis express is easy to misinterpret as tactlessness. Don’t be surprised if you encounter this behavior when you come into contact with Israelis – it’s in no way meant to be disrespectful!

Don’t be afraid to argue

If you ever find yourself in a situation in which you and your Israeli colleagues disagree, you’ll likely witness the Israeli art of heated discussions. What foreign ears can perceive as vociferousness, argumentativeness or even aggressiveness is not uncommon in Israel; it rather denotes interest. Confidently representing your opinions and not being easily talked out of them tends to be appreciated there. In light of the aforementioned information, we’d like to give you three more short tips to help you along your way:

  • Israelis tend to question rules and instructions, which is why they often handle them more flexibly. Don’t misinterpret this behavior. It has nothing to do with insubordination. It’s rather simply rooted in the cultural values of many Israelis.
  • Personal contacts and networks are very important in Israel, maybe more important than they are in your own culture. Don’t underestimate them, as they can serve as door openers.
  • Appointments for important discussions are often scheduled at the last minute. In exceptional cases, these can even fall on weekends or holidays. Business-related telephone calls can also be made late in the day [until as late as midnight!]. So be prepared for this!

Needless to say, this blog post can only address a few relevant aspects of the Israeli culture and business world. Are you interested in employee leadership, negotiation situations or other business-related issues? Or are you about to be sent to Tel Aviv for a long assignment? In that case, we’d recommend a cross-cultural training specially tailored to your specific needs. You’ll find more exciting information about our offerings at the following link.

About Sophie Humpisch

I studied business communication and cross-cultural competence. During my studies I lived abroad for a long time and therefore experienced cross-cultural differences on my own. I have been with Eidam & Partner since 2014, being responsible for the support and recruiting of cross-cultural experts. Eidam & Partner offers worldwide services related to cross-cultural communication, such as cross-cultural training, cross-cultural coaching, eLearning and preparation for international assignments for more than 80 target countries.
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