Lois Martin is the Americas sales manager for an Israeli firm which sells drug detection technology to police forces. Lois, a Toronto resident, was recruited 9 months ago; she has just finished her first visit to Israeli HQ, in Tel Aviv. Lois was absolutely shell shocked after a week of meetings.
Lois and I met for lunch today to debrief her on her impressions. Here is what shocked Lois, and the meaning I ascribed to augment her understanding.
1 Lois-Decisions appear to be final; then they are revisited and then undone.
Allon-Correct. No decision is binding until the very last second. It is common practice to challenge decisions all the time. This does not detract from commitment, rather it is a sign of commitment.
2 Lois-No one follows a meeting agenda. They jump from subject to subject.
Allon-Indeed. Issues get discussed but not as per a planned agenda. Free association and “I have something related to this” constantly shift the focus of discussion. However, everything get done but just in a different order.
3 Lois-Everyone is glued to their cellphone, all the time.
Allon-Everyone is glued to their cellphone, all the time.
4 Lois-People interrupt one another all the time, and raise their voices; it’s pandemonium.
Allon-People talk at the same time, butt in and contradict people before the other has finished speaking. It is not pandemonium; it is a discussion with different rules of engagement. You don’t use the rules of baseball in a football game. Discussions in Israel have their own rules. Join the mob or sit on the sidelines. And there is a lot to be said for almost total absence of “feigned commitment” so frequent in more polite cultures.
5 Lois-There are many off colour jokes; I was shocked.
Allon-Isn`t that refreshing-not to have all that PC rammed down your throat? Lois smiled, clearly not in agreement.
6 Lois-I noticed that people come to meetings late, and at times deal with family issues or bureaucracy during work.
Allon-Being on time is not all that important. A minimum ten minute delay is common practice, And Israel has a crushing bureaucracy which drains endless effort, especially if people are taking care of elderly parents or dealing with an insensitive government agency. For example, it can take 2 hours waiting to get a package at the post office, which often is open only until 2 pm. Or another example, cars have a compulsory “test” at a government accredited garage, a procedure which often entails quite a few hours. There are many more chores which need to be done, often on company time.