Judith Hornok


Interview with Judith Hornok in the Austrian Start-Up magazine „Brutkasten“


Original interview in german:

Interview mit Judith Hornok im österreichischen Start-Up Magazin “Brutkasten”

Here is a translation:

“Mindset” and “Hinderer”: Judith Hornok’s study for the Arab market

In order to open up foreign markets for your company, you not only need bare figures, a quick trip and an empty suitcase for the money. CEOs and Managers need the ability to identify specific “country codes” of behavior and adapt their “mindset” accordingly.

A conversation with author and company coach Judith Hornok, who researched entrepreneurship in the Arab world for 15 years, and has tips ready, that also cover the emotional level.

Foreign markets, foreign customs – this is a simplified way of summarizing the hurdles that can arise when expanding one’s own company into other markets. Political faux pas, social misconceptions, prejudice or carefree behavior that is recognized in western latitudes or tolerated with a shrug of the shoulders can cause irritation in other parts of the world and cause a desired business to collapse.

Judith Hornok, author of the book “The Arab Business Code” experienced all of this and created a concept in which she reveals the so-called “Emotional Hinderers”. She calls it “The Concept of The Emotional Hinderers by Judith Hornok” and at the same time reveals which cost-intensive and business-damaging hurdles Western businesspeople can encounter when they turn their eye to the Arab world. She researched the issue for a long time in the Middle East and from there has received great praise for her “Entrepreneur Guide”.

“When I read this book, I found myself fascinated with the way issues were illustrated; Hornok’s long experience in the Arabian Gulf allows her to go deep inside the cultures. I think with the concept every businessman who seeks success worldwide could develop a plan,” says A. Latif Al-Mahmoud, CEO of the media company “Dar Al Sharq Group” owned by Sheikh Khalid bin Thani Al Thani, a member of the Qatari royal family.

Foreign codes

Specifically, the textbook for business travelers in the Arab world deals with “codes” that exist in every society. “It is important to recognize and interpret them,” says Hornok. “The Arab Codes, that is, the modes of behavior in the Arab world, are often alien to the western world or are ignored by foreign businesspeople. However, in order to have successful business relationships, one should know the most important ones.”

She sees the concept of “The Emotional Hinderers” as an approach to identify negative emotions and feelings in one’s own behavior at an early stage and to manage them successfully. The former Formula 1 journalist always had human-intensive jobs, as she calls them. In addition to reporting on the premier class of motorsport, she worked in the hotel industry and also as a company coach.

In her latest work, the author processes her experiences of how culture and the associated style of communication – the code of this culture – shape the mutual image and understanding of the interlocutors.

Seven types of emotional hurdles

“In a culture that was initially completely foreign to me, with completely different communication styles, I discovered the seven “Emotional Hinderers” and found that they are universal and not tied to any specific culture. They therefore apply everywhere,” explains Hornok. It is important to her to emphasize that these are not abstract structures, but that in her work she also depicts those factors graphically, as playful, in order to bring them to life.

There are seven types: “The Aggressive Inner Critic”, “The Bloated Ego”, “The Frustrated Expectation”, “The Insatiable Greed”, “The Relentless Judgment”, “The Incensed Anger Rascal” and “The Paralyzing Fear”.
“I consciously use a visual language so that this “Emotional Hinderer” can be accessed and managed,” she explains. “To make it easier to analyze them.”

With this access to those negative and aggressive emotions, Hornok would like to analyze the encounters between those who apply them – those who “feel” these so called “hinderers” – and who raise these feelings to another level. One, where becoming aware of inner attitudes and feelings that can stand in your way (especially in a business sense) does not present itself as a negative experience. “Humor is important”, says Hornok, “Laughing at something leads to a better approach”.

Suitcase Manager and empty purse

In this context, the coaching expert calls startup founders “great presenters” who, as experienced founders, can also be victims of such “Emotional Hinderers”. Above all, the type called “The Frustrated Expectations” plays a bigger role in the scene, as one of her examples shows.

“I have seen characters in a wide variety of cultures, but especially in the Arabian Gulf, who prefer to show up with empty bags, so-called’ Suitcase Managers’, to have them filled with money. You’d like to close deals in a day. Cash is king,” recalls Hornok.

That this often fails doesn’t seem to come as a great surprise. However, taking a look at the mechanics, which factors were decisive in preventing the “almost finished deals”, can lead to an Aha! experience.

Hornok: “The Insatiable Greed” character is seductive”

“Talks were held, presentations given, and money was also talked about,” summarizes Hornok. “It was clear that an investment would be made. But then the investor begins to ask and then unrest sets in. You think, what’s the point now. And everyone in the room feels the changed behavior. “The Insatiable Greed” is seductive. This character says: “I finally want the money. Everything has been agreed.“

Another example, which is not geared so much at greed, but at “The Bloated Ego” character – in the sense of “I know everything” and do not need to find out about the country in advance – is provided by Hornok with a story about the Expo in Dubai, which caused additional costs and stress for those involved. Italians had a David statue by Michelangelo for their stand to give their appearance an artistic touch.

“A nice idea, actually, but the statue could be seen in its entire nakedness. The Italians were astonished that the installation was refused. It was against the laws of Dubai. So, they had to invest money again to cover the work of art,” she recalls. “But this story turned out well.”

The King of Qatar?

Other anecdotes from her research served the protagonists more as “valuable learnings”, since business failed there. For example, when the businesspeople asked about the welfare of the King of Qatar instead of that of the Sheikh, and distributed folders with half-naked images included.

“Or even brought a soccer ball, with the state flag depicted on it, to Saudi Arabia as a present. What they did not know, the flag must not be placed on a product that you step on with your foot,” said Hornok. “This is then no longer entertaining but damaging to business and in the end expensive. The ‘code’ of these people was hurt.”
In all of her examples, Hornok continues, are those “Emotional Hinderers” which are based on poor preparation. What works in one’s own surroundings has to be approached differently in others, according to the lesson the author provides with her work.

The other “learning” that businesspeople can take with them is what Hornok calls “The Relentless Judgement”. One of these prejudiced attitudes is that residents of a Muslim state “are all the same” – and oppress women. Hornok herself had a different experience during her research and basically didn’t have real issues, as she says.

Special man-woman relationships?

“There is a guide that I follow. You have to know where you are going and whom you will meet. The key word is good preparation. I need to know who my business partners are, because not all of them suit me. There are those who live more conservatively, some don’t shake hands with a woman. But not because they reject women, it comes from their culture. It’s a question of respect and awareness between a man and a woman.”

Her view becomes clearer in another anecdote when she was in the middle of her initial research in the city of Dubai.

At the “Dubai World Cup”, a horse race that has been held since 1996, she was supposed to meet one of the most sought-after businesspeople in the country. When Hornok was shown to the VIP box, that businessman suddenly looked at the ground and would not look at her directly again.

“I was shocked and asked myself what I did wrong”, reminisced Hornok. “The Inner Critic” immediately came up telling me you are not good enough. I was then led to the side. And when I stood there, my contact person explained that he was looking at me from a distance. It was a slow approach to getting to know each other. This is how communication came about. That sounds strange to us at first, but it is part of the local cultural ‘codes’.”

Different techniques for the mindset

For Europeans and others who are interested in the Arab market, it is important to develop strategies in this context in order to recognize codes and always be aware that their own balanced mindset is a must at the beginning of successful negotiations. You have to have emotions under control. She calls this the “From Inside To Outside Technique” (FITO).

“Arabs can read facial expressions and gestures very well,” Hornok continued. “If someone is not convinced, if they just want the money and nothing else, the business will not strive. Finding techniques to communicate better is important. Because ‘getting to know each other better’ is the investment of the 21st century.”
Important tips are to keep a constant balance when pitching, not to become too intrusive and not to lose yourself completely, but always pursuing your goals. A successful deal in the Arab market is comparable to entering a car. With which Hornok leads on to a second method, which she calls the “gas-shift-brake technique”. “You step on the gas once, you press the clutch, look around and shift down a gear in order to perceive your surroundings”.
In detail, she advises businesspeople to first find out what they expect from the target market in order to anticipate “The Frustrated Expectations”. Then ask yourself what you know about the country in question and whether you even want to do business with the people there.

The world is a club

“I’ve had people who didn’t want Arabs or Chinese. If you already have this inner attitude, then you are aggressive and have to question yourself, in the sense of “The Incensed Anger Rascal“ character, whether the chosen market is the right one. Because once I’m there, I have to myself,” she says.

When businesspeople finally have the ” Emotional Hinderers” under control, can manage expectations and are curious about the market, then a first step has been clarified. According to her advice, one can forge the first introductions in the Arab region through the Chamber of Commerce and build networks out of Austria. Establish relationships slowly.

“The Expo is also a nice place to start with. If you are prepared and know the ‘codes’, that is a good basic requirement for later success. The people there know each other. It’s like a kind of private club where there are also family ties across borders. If you get to know someone there and cultivate the relationship, you will also be recommended,” says Hornok.

And she adds: “The family code is extremely important in the Arab world. It’s a lot about reputation and ‘passwords’ that make the other person realize you understand them. And it is these ‘codes’ that I was able to identify that ensure an equal level of understanding. But first you have to identify and manage The Emotional Hinderers, only then will it work.”

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Information for editors:

You can find more information about Judith Hornok on www.judithhornok.com

For questions:

E-Mail: htp@aon.at

Tel: + 43 650 768 46 46


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