Integration as International Business: Are you the buyer or the seller?

When I was teaching at a regional business school several years ago, we used a book called Cross-Cultural Business Behavior by Richard Gesteland. The first chapter outlines what the author calls ‘the two iron rules of international business’.

The first of these: “The seller must adapt to the buyer.”

So during a recent session of my course, Intercultural Communication at Work, I asked the people there – a mix of natives and newcomers – to apply this business thinking to their own workplace situation.

Buying and selling

Say that natives are the buyers, and we newcomers are the sellers – how do we in the last group adapt to the first?

You can probably imagine the list that was drawn up, at the top being newcomers’ need to learn the language here. Then following the laws, then finding work, etc.

But what I found interesting was not only what was said during class, but after it as well.

Three newcomers – from different countries – came up to me, one after the other, as everyone else was filing out. Each said in their way that they’d found the course interesting and helpful, but didn’t I realize?

Rewriting the rule

“We already know a lot about how to adapt. And have to try and do it every day both at work and outside of it. So your course tonight should be for the buyers – because they have to learn more about the ways in which they can help us adapt.”


Maybe we should rewrite this iron rule to read: “The seller must adapt to the buyer, who in turn must help him/her to adapt.”

Sounds good in theory, but in reality would all you buyers out there go along with this new rule of sales?

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