The first time I was called friend in Africa I was pleasantly surprised and flattered that someone who did not really know me could start the contact already at the level of friendship. Being called friend was confirmed by invitations to visit the family in the family home, to attend family events, and to be told their needs, problems and issues in life. For me a friend is connected to my heart, and therefore typically I would wholeheartedly respond.
Having an open heart and naïve personality trait meant that I was, at first, oblivious to the direction they were heading and what they would soon expect from me being their friend. There is something to say about the Dutch culture and their proverb “watch the cat how it will get out of the tree.” If you are reading this and it is your first time to know this about the Dutch people, you are probably thinking what does this mean. What it means is WAIT, don’t react immediately, but first take a good look at what’s going on, and based on that determine what you can do or say best. Actually, this is good all-round advice for any situation even situations with business contacts who call you friend prematurely at the start of the contact.
There are times when in business we just ‘click’ with someone. This ‘clicking’ phenomenon I base on having a feeling of sharing values, having similar or complementary life experiences, or having a special understanding of each other, and these similarities bind us together. When it happens it feels like a natural occurrence. In business we most likely use this ‘click’ in our decision making whether to proceed doing business together and to initiate trust.
In Africa they are raised: no hate, no hatred, never hate! Also, they believe that friendship across the races is an indicator of progress, and there is a hope that their new friendship will give them contacts and resources that they can tap into. However, this “tapping into” can have unexpected consequences and the need for deep pockets.
Once I heard the true story of a new business manager going to Africa for the first time. When he landed at the airport he proceeded to hire a car and driver to take him to his destination i.e. a journey that should take him about 8 and a half hours over 490 kms. At the car rental company he believed that he had a good ‘click’ with the person in the office and the chauffeur so he took the car they had available. At that time he did not know that the 490 kms journey would actually take 22 hours and 5 breakdowns. It is probably safe to say that he had been tapped into. His need to get to his destination prompted him, although he was unhappy to do so after the third time, to open up his wallet and pay for the car repairs. In other countries we would expect that the cost of repairs is for the rental company, but for this new business manager in Africa it meant that his situation needed him to have deep pockets.
Being a friend in Africa, for Africa, for an African means sharing in their life experiences. For example celebrating the good times: weddings, birthdays, graduations, anniversaries; and the bad times: the times of lack, the need to borrow money, to paying off debt, affording school fees, covering the costs of medical bills and sometimes funerals, etc. A good friend is a contributor and this is a fact in Africa. This is the way they help each other. Follow your heart, and, take caution by keeping your eyes open for those who have decided that your friendship is determined on how your deep pockets can benefit them in many ways.
In my next blog I will write about hierarchal waiting i.e. the more important the person is you are meeting, the longer you must wait.
Sheila Speed, Business Development Specialist, of Speed InterLink for World Trade Center Leeuwarden.
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