Information about Israeli business culture
collated by Mike Druttman
There’s lots of information on the Internet about doing business in Israel and some of the ways (perhaps strange for Japanese visitors) of dealing with them. I’ve collated the main points.
Israel is Western in many ways, with infrastructure that’s much better than you’ll find in the USA, for example. Yet how people talk to one another and how they relate to you differs from other nations. I remember that it took me several years, coming from the UK, to get used to it. In the end I embraced the change as being good and Israeli people as being very warm and well-meaning.
The best way to describe the dress code for meetings here is ‘casual elegant’. Sometimes people wear jackets, but usually not. They also don’t wear suits. Ties are reserved for the newscasters on TV. I’ve seen Japanese people come to the first meeting with a suit and tie, but abandon the tie for the second meeting and perhaps also take off the jacket. If you wear everything as normal for Japan but keep your shirt collar open, that should be fine.
There’s a strong business culture of familiarity and friendship that runs through Israeli society. This spills over into business contacts too. You’ll find that people will seek closer contacts than perhaps you feel comfortable with. The best business is conducted with people who are friendly with each other. So they use first names after a while. It’s best to start with surnames at the initial meeting and see how things ‘warm up’ after that.
Subtlety and suggestion are not part of the Israeli character. Perhaps because they are always in a hurry to do everything, they prefer the direct approach. They prefer you to simply say “I don’t think that will work” than “Yes, we need to consult about this point”. This is a hard nut to crack for Japanese people. The important point is not to take offence because everything is said and done with good intentions.
Information sources about Israel always mention this. They say that Israelis tend to have a reputation for rudeness. But please view this through the filter of culture. Sometimes they may interrupt your speech to bring a new idea into discussion. Don’t get offended by that as they don’t consider it rude. The conversation can become very lively. Israelis are of a lively nature so don’t be surprised by this. Make a note of how passionate they are about things.
Hierarchy in Israeli business culture is described as flat and not cone-shaped. There’s a freedom for making decisions collectively and for everyone to express their opinion. Nevertheless, the senior member always has the final say on decisions.
The only place where religion may play a hand in business meetings is during the greeting stage. A religious Jewish or Arab man may not be comfortable in shaking hands with a woman. If Japanese women are present at meetings, it’s best to check this point with the organizer of the meeting first.
Business meetings in Israel aspire to be on time but there isn’t the same focus on punctuality as in Japan. So allow a 10-20 minute window.
This is a working day in Israel, like everybody else’s Mondays. Fridays are not usually working days, although sometimes morning meetings are arranged.
So here it is: your quick information sheet about getting to know the business culture in Israel. May you have success.