In the rich culture of business English, we’ve got words and phrases which help us close deals, run our offices, order our thoughts, communicate our needs and get creative and innovative -- words like “hardball,” “loophole,” “big picture,” “out of the box,” “no brainer” and “low hanging fruit.” We even have great acronyms: like “ASAP.”
But, guess what? Even though English is the lingua franca of the business world, it has no monopoly on great words for doing business better. Here are nine verbal gems from around the world which we lack in our native tongue. . . but maybe should have:
1. Guanxi (Chinese) -- Often mistranslated as meaning, simply, “relationship,” Guanxi instead has a nuanced cultural definition that is part of the backbone of Chinese business dealings and can actually improve one's business performance. It essentially means a social network meant to provide a sense of stability and enhanced cooperation among its members -- a crucial business network, par excellence.
2. Meraki (Greek) -- Meraki can be translated as doing something with soul, creativity or love. As any go-getter will tell you, meraki is a crucial path to business success, no matter what it is you do.
3. Combina (Hebrew) -- An indispensable word in Israel, combina is a way of getting things done via connections, deals or, as the name suggests, combinations of incongruent parts. It’s not the straightforward approach of countries such as Germany or the United States, but a splicing together of solutions others thought impossible. Indeed, combina partly explains why Israel, sometimes called “Startup Nation,” has become such a hub of innovation.
4. Nunchi (Korean) -- Nunchi describes the subtle art of paying attention to someone else’s mood and knowing what to do in a given situation. If, for example, you are meeting with a Korean counterpart who raves about a nearby restaurant, taking your counterpart to that exact restaurant could garner you the label of nunchi ppareuda, or having quick nunchi. For business leaders, this ability to quickly "read" the room or size up the person across from you is of incomparable value.
5. Bricoleur (French) -- Literally meaning “handyman,” bricoleur can be used as an accolade, indicating a level of resourcefulness with limited materials at hand. Bricoleur, then, can be a compliment for an entrepreneur dealing with limited resources and information. But, be forewarned: Bricoleur can also have a negative connotation, describing those with no idea of what they are doing -- those flying by the seat of their pants.
6. Taarradhin (Arabic) -- Meaning a happy solution for everybody, or a win-win, taarradhin can also be a way to compromise without anyone losing face – a quality that by all accounts is the key to successful negotiations. Despite deep cultural and religious differences, the word is used uniformly throughout the Arabic-speaking world.
7. Honne and Tatemae (Japanese) -- Honne essentially means a person’s private feelings -- feelings which are shared only among family and the closest of friends and may run counter to prevailing public sentiment. Tatemae, by contrast, describes the public façade necessitated by communitywide expectations and may sometimes bear little resemblance to someone’s honne but instead is built upon the avoidance of conflict. This concept is a cornerstone of Japanese culture and business and can foster the type of financial balance many of us lack in our daily dealings.
8. Chutzpah (Yiddish) -- The term chutzpah can be defined as audacity, guts, cheek, brashness and even a “never-take-no-for-an-answer” attitude. Really, this one wonderful Yiddish word encompasses all these traits and more. Basically, chutzpah is what you need if you actually walk into an elevator with Bill Gates and need to work up to whatever it is you need to work up, to deliver your well-practiced elevator pitch to this total stranger. Still, chutzpah might be a double-edged sword, as one person’s brashness and mettle might be another person’s rudeness and disrespect.