Contributing Lawyers


Cyndee Todgham Cherniak

United States

Susan Kohn Ross


Andrew Hudson

Can International Businesses Learn a Lesson from President Obama's "Beer Summit"

Many may disagree with me on this one - I wonder whether the President Obama "Beer Summit" offers any lessons to international businesses. While the situations are very different, the question applies to many situations: Can we resolve differences amicably (and maybe agree to disagree) by sitting down and listening to one another?"

History and lawyers tell international businesses to exercise caution. The reality is that disputes between friends and competitors, suppliers and buyers, advisors and advised, businesses and government officials arise from time to time. When there is a dispute, there is usually a reaction to that dispute. Some reactions are mild and some reactions are explosive.

The background to the Obama "beer summit" is an explosive reaction on the part of two, maybe three or more, individuals.

What we saw in the "beer summit" was three of the four contributors to the negative reaction sitting down for a beer. President Obama said after the meeting:

"What you had was a moment where all the suspicions and misunderstandings that are embedded in our [word racial removed for the purposes of this post on business] history were suddenly laid bare. ... They've got the same hopes, same dreams. But, you know there's a different language, there's a different lexicon and you know there are real cultural differences."

Learning requires listening. Listening requires allowing the other person to talk. Allowing the other person to talk involves communication. Communication requires someone to take the time to halt a negative situation and establish a meeting for the dialogue to occur. This is what is important in international business.

I have just returned from a business trip to China where a client is in the middle of an explosive situation. The real cultural differences between the Canadian way to conduct business and the Chinese way to conduct business is an impediment to resolving the issues. I cannot yet write the success story, but hope to be able to soon.

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