Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series. Read Part 1.
Working with global clients can become a highly profitable niche for your real estate business provided you are curious about your clients’ culture and you stay away from the pitfalls that can undermine your success.
Part 1 of this series outlined two important pitfalls to avoid when working with global clients: discussing anything about them or their transactions and avoiding questions about their profession or how much they earn. Here are seven additional pitfalls to avoid.
3. Eye contact
For Americans as well as most Hispanic clients, eye contact builds trust. For most Asian cultures, direct eye contact is completely inappropriate. Instead of looking your Asian clients in the eye when you speak, look at their tie or off to one side. (Please note that many American Gen Xers have trouble making eye contact as well.)
4. When ‘yes’ doesn’t mean ‘yes,’ and ‘no’ doesn’t mean ‘no’
"Yes" and "no" seem pretty obvious to almost everyone, but when it comes to other cultures, it’s not exactly cut and dry. For example, you may ask someone from India if they can have the physical inspection completed no later than five business days from the date the offer is accepted. Your Indian buyer may say "yes"; however, that "yes" doesn’t mean the American version, "I will get this done by then." Instead, it means, "I will try my best to make that deadline."
Also, people from India indicate agreement by shaking their head side to side. (In the U.S., however, side-to-side head movement represents disagreement.)
There is a similar issue with the word "no." To illustrate this point, someone who is Japanese will never say "no." He will say "perhaps" or "it is difficult." As a result, you must avoid saying "no" as well.
In contrast, Russians almost always begin negotiations with the word "no." They know Americans are impatient and are happy to wait them out. Don’t be afraid to tell your Russian clients "no."
5. No physical contact
Americans are pretty much in the minority when it comes to how open we are about touching each other in public. It’s common to shake hands, hug and even to kiss loved ones publicly. When you meet someone from another culture, you can raise your hand partially as if you were about to shake hands. If the move is not reciprocated, then drop your hand. Don’t be offended.
Also, avoid patting small children on the top of their head. Some cultures believe that the top of the head is the seat of their soul. In fact, the safest way to deal with this issue is to avoid any type of physical contact unless your clients initiate it first.
6. Social distance
One of the most fascinating aspects of cross-cultural communication has to do with social distance. In the U.S., social distance is approximately 3-4 feet. For people from the Middle East, the distance is about 2-3 feet. Contrast this with Asian cultures where the distance is 4-5 feet (the distance needed for each person to bow when they meet.)
What happens when social distance is violated is that one party keeps stepping closer while the other keeps stepping away. If you see your Asian clients stepping away from you or your Middle Eastern clients stepping closer, do your best to keep the appropriate distance.
7. Don’t assume you can use their first name
Americans are very casual about using first names. When you begin working with a client from anywhere outside of the U.S., use Mr., Mrs. or Miss until they indicate you can call them by their first name.
8. On time or on relationship?
This is another area where there are huge differences. For example, the Japanese, Germans and Swiss expect you to be exactly on time. If someone who is Japanese is late, you are expected to take the blame (i.e., I must have given you the wrong address.) This is a matter of face.
In contrast, Brazilians, in particular, as well as much of Latin America, place a premium on relationships coming first. They may have an appointment with you, but if they are having a conversation with their grandma, they will finish that first.
When you are dealing with people whose culture doesn’t support being exactly on time, picking them up is often a good idea. Also plan on showing properties that don’t require you to be exactly on time (i.e., open houses or properties that are on a key safe.)
9. Beware of common cultural superstitions
If you have worked with Chinese clients, you probably know that the number 8 is lucky and that the number 4 (which sounds like death) is unlucky. While you are never to write the name of someone who is Chinese in red (it means death), red is a lucky color when it comes to money. Feng shui masters suggest putting coins in a red bag and placing them in the far left corner of a room across from the entry door. If you want to make it even luckier, include exactly $8.88 to bring even more good luck.
When it comes to working with global clients, check your assumptions and be curious without probing too deeply or becoming too personal. Be willing to adapt to your clients rather than trying to force them to do things the American way. Respect their cultural values, be polite, enthusiastic, and remember to always be hypervigilant about maintaining their privacy.