The following article in the NY Jewish Week is fascinating for its contrast of the direct (even abrupt) way in which Israelis interact, as opposed to the usually more circumspect or polite mode of American speech. But what is unexplored here, is that this “dugri” style (which is undiplomatic by definition), may also harm Israeli-Arab negotiations. We excerpt this article here:
. . . “Israel’s dugri [direct] communication style” — blunt, decisive, often confrontational — “derives from the historical concept of the Sabra becoming the ‘new Jew,’” explains [Anat] Kedem [co-founder of IAIA (Israeli American Intercultural Advantage)]. The Israeli pioneers lived rough, bare-knuckle lives, and a matching communication style evolved for them. . . .
“Underneath this ‘telling it like it is’ is a tolerance towards conflict,” adds Kedem. “In Israel, the thinking is that confrontation is good — it raises the energy level, it’s a sign of a healthy team — it’s actually a team-building activity. For Americans, conflict is seen as counterproductive and harmful, and their own form of tactful communication is geared to avoid it.”
Examples of misunderstandings that flow from these different philosophies are endless.
When an American says, “I would appreciate if you could get this to me by Thursday,” he means that the drop-dead deadline is Thursday. An Israeli would take this to mean that getting it done by Thursday would be nice, but later is also OK. Israeli for “have it done by Thursday” is “have it done by Thursday.”
When an Israeli, on the other hand, says, “You’re wrong,” all he means is, “I beg to differ, let’s discuss.” What an American might hear is, “I obviously don’t care what you think, since I just trampled all over your opinion.” …
If anybody could attest to the cost of different communication styles, it’s Jerry [an American immigrant trying to fit into an Israeli job]. … I found him pacing outside the building, huffing and sniffling, eyes bright with unshed tears. “I just made my first big sale,” he said in a choked voice, “but the boss said it’s not good enough. She basically threatened to fire me!”
I went into the manager’s office and informed her Jerry was really upset. She looked surprised. “But I just told him he was doing a good job!”
“Hmm…” I rubbed my chin. “How exactly did you say it?”
“I said, ‘Great, you’re finally starting to pull your weight around here!’”
Classic, says [Vivian] Deutsch [another co-founder of IAIA]. “Most people don’t realize that Israelis and Americans don’t only express themselves differently, they have different motivational systems.” Americans are motivated by positive reinforcement, by the promise that a job well done is appreciated and will be rewarded. Israelis — for whom, historically, a job not done well may well mean a threat to survival — typically thrive when prodded to do better.
And what about our different approach to rules, regulations, plans? For the American, a rule’s a rule; for an Israeli, it’s a guideline. If something else happens to work better than the original plan, why stick to it?
In negotiations, Americans have a win-win mentality. Israelis just have “win.”
“This comes from Israelis’ attitude towards boundaries,” Kedem says. “Beginning with the fact Israel still doesn’t have an agreement about its borders. We’re constantly pushing against physical and mental boundaries. … We know we’ve crossed a boundary only when we’re pushed back. If there is no pushback, we understand we haven’t reached the boundary yet. That’s just how Israelis are brought up.” . . .
Jerry must have heard “It’s just the way we are” one time too many… We rushed to his cubicle, and found him in a chest-to-chest standoff with Gilad “The Hammer” Levi, a notoriously loud-mouthed sales rep who had made record sales, with both American and Israeli customers, by not allowing them to get a word in edgewise. The two were arguing over a sales commission. Jerry was turning a dangerous shade of red.
“I … don’t … CARE IF YOU’RE ISRAELI!” he yelled, interrupting Gilad in mid-rant. “I don’t care if you’re the Zohan himself! It was my sale: I’m right, you’re wrong, now shut up!”
For a moment The Hammer regarded him through narrowed eyes — then raised his hands in the air. “OK, you win,” he grinned, and slapped Jerry on the back. “Finally, you’re talking dugri.”
It’s not that the Israeli style may harm negotiations. Rather, contrasting styles may harm negotiations. Cultural differences aren’t anyone’s “fault.” In fact, the biggest problems usually come from assigning blame for mere difference. And I’d argue this is a pretty important point.