(Alleged) Incidents: Business Etiquette in a Global Environment

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May 27, 2014

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Photo credit: clker.com

Photo credit: clker.com

Early last week, a story broke of an alleged altercation between a Kenyan legislator and a senior Chinese official in the restricted baggage hall of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. We use and will continue to emphasize on the ‘alleged’ aspect as accounts of this incident differ, and we of course have no way of verifying actual events.

The alleged report has it that MPs Ababu Namwamba of Budalangi, Major (Rtd) John Waluke of Sirisia and Charles Mon’gare of North Mugirango reportedly chanced upon the Chinese gentleman in question at their arrival to the airport and sought to find out why he was in the restricted area.  When no such information was forthcoming, Major Waluke is alleged to have physically attacked the Chinese official, slapping him and throwing away flowers that were in his possession.

The alleged victim, Mr. Lui Jie, was in fact in the restricted area in his capacity as the representative for the China Africa Development Fund to receive a delegation from the China National Tourism Fund. You may recognize these organizations from media talking points on Kenya’s efforts to stimulate tourism from Asia in the wake of Western nations issuing travel advisories against Kenya.

With Mr. Jie taken to Port Health Clinic for medical attention, the alleged assault is currently under investigation by the Kenya Airports Police. We continue to stress on the ‘alleged’ as the Kenyan legislators in question have released a contradictory statement, affirming that their inquisition as to the intentions of the ‘unidentified’ Chinese gentleman was due to the state of increased insecurity in Kenya. They have categorically denied that any physical assault occurred.

With this incident in mind, what can we in the supply chain management learn about business etiquette? The key and most important thing any business coach will tell you is to treat everyone with respect, regardless of their title or position. This goes for people you have not yet been formally introduced to as well: not only is it the reasonable, respectable and decent thing to do, it can spare you from embarrassing incidents that might put off potential clients, suppliers or even employers. Say you assume the person you are speaking to is a junior executive with no power or influence on your interests and treat them as such; nobodies. Discerning companies will be quick to identify this disrespectful or condescending trait towards people who are not your superiors and be reluctant to work with you.

Similarly, your initial assumption may be incorrect and find you harassing or mistreating someone of high stature or influence, which is allegedly the case in this situation: the ‘insignificant’ alleged victim was present at the airport on the very important official business involving trying to woo Asian tourists to replace income lost from Western travel advisories.

Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

Related to this is the idea of global business; an interaction between Kenyan and Chinese officials. In today’s economic climate, knowing how to interact well with potential business partners from vastly different nations is most certainly a competitive advantage for logistics managers and entrepreneurs. It is important for supply chain management players to go the extra mile and brush up on cultures of potential stakeholders they intend to interact with. This includes matters such as dress code: for the female supply chain industry participant, it is easy to offend more conservative partners with clothing that is considered normal in Kenya- make it a point to research what might offend business partners and rectify it.

Likewise, be well versed in communication protocols governing addressing seniors by their title, policy on handshakes, potentially offensive gestures or religious codes influencing interactions. For meetings outside the traditional office setting, take the time to familiarize yourself with dining etiquette, guides to gift giving where expected, and the like. By understanding the cultures of those we interact with in business, we are better able to respect them and create a pleasant atmosphere for carrying out your core supply chain management objectives.

We can generously chalk up the alleged incident with our Kenyan officials to a failure in communication and make the decision to improve on our own cross-cultural interactions to mitigate any negative impression of the country that may arise – saving us from allegedly abusing the word ‘alleged’ in future business writings. Do stay updated on your business etiquette, won’t you?


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