How can a US based manager deal with 3 difficult aspects of Israeli business culture



It ain’t easy managing creative people.There are hundreds if not thousands of US based managers who are managing Israelis, especially in R&D and Engineering.

The US based managers enjoy the hard working nature of the Israelis, the boundless  creativity and the pragmatic, no nonsense approach of “doing whatever it takes” to get the job done. On the other hand, the way that Israelis do business can be very annoying to US based managers.

I have a list of about 45 annoying things that Israelis do to American manager and how to deal with them. In this post I will deal with three of the more annoying behaviours.

1) Israelis argue all the time. Absolutely  everything (especially management direction) is up for debate. While this debate enables a lot of the creativity, it is often hard for a US based manager to manage the endless filibusters in order to “move on”.

The best way to deal with this is to let the arguing go on until “enough is enough” and then end it very forcefully by standing up, raising your voice, and tell them to stop arguing. You can do so in English, and if necessary in Hebrew. If there are two Hebrew words a US manager should learn, they are “tafsiku lhitvakech”-stop arguing. (תפסיקו להתווכח)

2) Israelis challenge authority all the time. If a US manager believes that once he has given direction “my word be done”, he will be in for a rude awakening. Israelis (like Aussies) are very suspect of authority and never acquiesce without a good fight. The upside is that you won’t encounter passive resistance, but you sure will encounter active resistance.

The best way to deal with the challenge to authority  is to absorb some punishment, fight back, and when enough is enough simple say….”the discussion is over-do what you are told”. The Israelis will respect this far more than a weak and politically correct hint, such as “get over it, guys”.

3) After a decision has been made, Israelis often return to the decision and try to re open it with new facts and opinions. More than anything else, this drives US managers crazy. The upside of this behaviour is that last minute changes often enable a more flexible response; the downside is that this flexibility is not scalable.

The best way to deal with this is to allow re opening of decisions in engineering and technical matters, and not allow this reopening of decisions in other less critical areas. When you do not allow an Israeli to revisit a decision, you may lose his trust, but take the risk, because otherwise you can spin wheels in endless debates.

Share Button

5 thoughts on “How can a US based manager deal with 3 difficult aspects of Israeli business culture

  1. Does this constant “arguing cum debating” stance take its roots in the relationship between the chosen people of God and God? Sounds to me that the same dynamic is present in many examples of “debating with the Big Guy” until He decides: “OK, Moses that’s enough debating. I’m still running the show here.”

  2. Forcing a manager to defend a decision strikes me as a pretty good way to get an early road test of it. What managers can’t defend, they need to consider changing.

    Kathleen Sebelius may yet relocate to FInland because she most certainly didn’t do this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.