Doing business with Israelis? Here’s what you need to know

Doing business with Israelis Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash
Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash

Doing business with Israelis is as straightforward as it comes. According to a Working with Israelis internal manual at Intel Corporation, who’s been working in Israel since the late 1960’s:

When communicating with Israelis, best to keep in mind:

  1. Present your ideas clearly and concisely
  2. Expect to be cut off regularly during a presentation
  3. Israelis prefer to ask questions and discuss issues immediately rather than wait until the end of the presentation.
  4. Israelis are generally fond of debate and will typically discuss any topic very passionately.

A generally accepted attitude in Israel, both on the street and the business world, is:

Some rules are meant to be bent, while others are meant to be broken.

Uriel Peled

Raz Chorev, CWS Isreal’s managing director, is an Israeli born Entrepreneur who’s been mellowed down a bit since living in Australia for 25+ years. His view of the Israeli communication style, comes from both perspectives – the Israeli-born and Australia’s grown:

If you understand that at the base, Israelis are constantly looking to improve things, and are very passionate in their communication style, you can interpret their directness and passion as rudeness, arrogance or aggressiveness, which is sometimes how they come across. Alternatively, if you understand where they’re coming from, you’d put aside the words and speaking volume, and focus on the content – you’ll be much better off.

Structure and planning is not a focus point for most Israelis. Time is of the essence, and they’d rather move forward, do something, and get a result, rather than plan and evaluate the situation and await directions. You can either consider that behaviour as reckless and irresponsible, or focus on the speed of things getting done, where it may not be perfect, but it will be there.

There’s little to no tolerance in Israel for fake-politeness. It is actually considered rude and offensive. So drop the act, and say how you really feel and think. Israelis won’t be offended if you do. On the contrary- they’ll appreciate you more.

Doing business with Israelis – an American perspective

Candor is one of Israel’s communication cornerstones. Kim Scott, in her book Radical Candor, often refers to her experience with Israelis in the business sense. In her book she tells this story to illustrate the differences between American and Israeli approach:

Shortly after I graduated from business school, I took a job with Deltathree, a voice over IP start-up based in Jerusalem. I was raised in the American South, where people will do almost anything to avoid conflict or argument. In Israel, the opposite was true. Conversations seemed to encourage conflict.

I’ll never forget overhearing Noam Bardin, Deltathree’s COO, yelling at an engineer, “That design could be fifteen times more efficient. You know you could have built it better. Now we’re going to have to rip what you did out and start over. We’ve lost a month, and for what? What were you thinking??”

I was a little shocked by this — I don’t think I had ever heard such a direct challenge in the workplace. But the engineer seemed to think this challenge was perfectly acceptable.

As I spent more time in Jerusalem and built relationships with the Israelis on the team, I began to understand the Israeli culture better. I began to understand that in the workplace and elsewhere, it was OK to challenge everything. It was not a sign of disrespect to argue vehemently with each other; rather it was a sign that the issue at hand was an important one to think about and discuss. I realized that Noam’s challenge to the engineer was a sign of respect.

There are a few cultural differences you’d need to take into consideration when doing business with Israelis. I would strongly recommend not taking things personally. Israelis are direct and sometime can be insensitive, but if you peel the rough bits off, you’ll find them to be good hearted, fun, dedicated and committed, and above all – all about progress.

It’s not personal, it’s only business…

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