Lost in Translation

As an aircraft broker who works and travels around the world you can’t help but gain experience as to how cultural differences, particularly when it comes to language (verbal and body), impact the business you are trying to conduct.  Some of us learn by observation and paying keen attention to how an already experienced trader you may be partnering with is handling a situation or responding to a particular request.  Others benefit from having had a rich ethnic heritage that carried on customs and traditions in the home, which in turn serve you well in the business world.   Still others without the benefit of the aforementioned actually take the time to study their subject before engaging them.  Only the thickest of beings would ignore their surroundings and tread unaware into dangerous territory, (read lost sale).

Sure you know your stuff, but are you able to clearly communicate what you know?  While you may be the go-to person on a particular subject, if you can’t get that information across to the person who stands to benefit from it, you might as well go home.  Or travel with a translator, and I don’t necessarily mean a linguist; a role that I have played on more than one occasion.  Slang, shortcuts and regional colloquiums do nothing but cause confusion for the person from another part of the world who has never heard how you will get after it like a duck on a June bug.   They keep smiling at you while I can just see their minds turning that phrase over and wondering if that means fast or slow.  Introducing a phrase such as you can’t soar with the eagles, if you hoot with the owls on occasion can serve to lighten the mood, but be cognizant of the fact you may have to clarify the meaning for your audience.   Timing is everything when it comes to injecting levity.

Perhaps more important is what you reduce to writing.  Certainly business correspondence needs to focus on the target market and be adapted to it.  I will take this a step further and comment that entries made into logbooks, flight logs or other permanent records that accompany an airplane need to be precise and easily understood by whoever reads the entry years after it was made.  Par example, what the heck is a “franicliation of a botteil”?  This reference came smack dab in the middle of an entry made in English on a French registered aircraft and the jokes that ensued were priceless.  “You know you have a real crisis when there are no bottles (wine) onboard a French airplane” quipped my aviation friend Neil.

None of us are immune from the occasional faux pas, moi included, so a quick wit often helps produce a quick recovery.  I will admit to what now is lore as to how early on in my business relationship with a long standing client from Paris I uttered an expletive while receiving bad news over the phone as they sat across my desk.  Thinking oh no, I looked them in the eye and promptly asked them to “pardon my French”.     “Zat’s French?!” came the quick response.    Fortunately it was my Client with the quick wit and good humor.   Not only did I go on to sell them the airplane, but I am pleased to say they are still my dear friends and good Clients today.   Perhaps timing sealed my fate as they were in need of the plane and after all Time Kills Deals.  Not to mention I was the woman for the job.

Then there are the times that no matter how clear you make yourself  vis-à-vis explicit technical language, reference to specific manuals, repeating yourself a hundred times, they just don’t get it.   How many times have you spelled it out in no uncertain terms only to have steps skipped, pieces left out or lack of delivery as promised?  I learned a long time ago that there is one way you can voice your opinion or cast your vote: with your checkbook.    More on this subject in my next blog.  For now, it’s time to hit the hay.