A Guide to Israeli Business Culture

Once international businesspeople have met and exchanged pleasantries they want to find a common core of beliefs, norms and sensitivities through which to communicate.

By Barry Rosenfeld |
Photo: Gili Yaari/Flash90

People usually reflect the customs of the culture from which they come.

Israeli cross-cultural communication consultant and author of the book Israeli Business Culture, Osnat Lautman, has interviewed close to 100 employees of global Israeli companies and came up with a model of local business culture using the letters in the word “ISRAELI.”

Informal

The first letter, “I”, stands for “Informal.” This is seen in the casual dress exhibited in the workplace and also in the way people interact. For example, it is common in initial meetings for Israelis to ask about one’s family and personal life. Israelis call each other by nicknames; even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is known as “Bibi.”

Straightforward

The letter “S” stands for “Straightforward.” Israelis say what they mean and are direct. If they think you are mistaken they simply say, “You’re wrong.” When you ask for an opinion they give it to you. While Americans may try to cover up a disagreement with evasive language, Israelis are direct and expect others to be so as well. However, it is important to not see this as personal insensitivity.

Risk-taking, Ambitious, Entrepreneurial

Israelis are ambitious and willing to take risks to start something new. This is a country of entrepreneurs who are looking to advance themselves and their products. They do not hesitate to ask difficult questions and explore all possibilities, although they may not stick to a rigid work plan.

Loud

“L” stands for “Loud,” and this refers both to tone of speech and body language. Israelis use their hands and arms to express themselves which arouses mixed feelings among foreigners. Some like the passion of emotions while others feel a lack of personal space due to the constant touching and straightforward questioning.

Improvisational

Finally, “I” stands for “Improvisational.” Israelis are more likely to think “outside the box.” They don’t just go along with an existing plan but continually improvise until the final goal is reached, responding to new challenges along the way. In many Western countries such as the US, Britain, Germany and Switzerland, work is done according to a strict agenda and such individuals often find it challenging to accept the rapid way in which Israelis can change the work plan. When Israelis are working with foreigners, Lautman advises that the project be broken up into several smaller parts to make sure that those not accustomed to quick changes will be able to adapt before moving on to the next step.

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