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Russian-American Interface Consulting

JMK Contact, Inc. provides the full range of interface services required to ensure a smooth interaction between Russian and American counterparts. In the same way that you need a power adapter in order to make your laptop work in a Russian hotel, you need an interface consultant to make your business expertise work in Russia.

By focusing on process, we approximate a level of comfort that our clients would have if they were doing business with another American company. As the result our clients are able to focus on business at hand instead of spending their energy feeling frustrated with the "strange" behavior of their counterparts.

Our interface consultants are sophisticated bi-lingual and bi-cultural mediators who build relationships, trust, and understanding between you and your Russian counterpart. We provide context and meaning; our job is to listen, analyze, synthesize, and communicate.

We are the client's stealth weapon. Our goal is to smoothly and efficiently advance their agenda, to help them achieve clarity on what they want, and to communicate it effectively to the Russian side. We make sure that progress is made and commitments are kept.


Interface Consultant: A Tool for Success in Russia

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Written by Julia Karpiesky

BISNIS Bulletin, June 2002


Editor’s note: Understanding the cultural and business issues that may serve as barriers to communicating with a potential Russian partner or customer is a key to doing business in this region. Doing research or seeking the advice or assistance of experts on the region is essential to U.S. businesses entering or active in this market.

It is no longer news that in order to succeed in Russia, you have to be friends with your counterparts, which means tremendous amounts of travel, dinners, vodka, banya, conversation, etc. In Russia, relationships come before results, context is vitally important, professional mistakes are easily forgiven, but personal lapses are not. This makes doing business in Russia a very expensive undertaking both in terms of time and money, especially if the Russian project is just one of your many responsibilities. One way to cope is to work with an “interface person” or consultant who will build and manage your relationships with Russian partners or customers.

Although there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings, an interface person will minimize your personal involvement, while maximizing effectiveness of your communication with Russians. You will spend less time in crisis mode, as you will have significantly fewer misunderstandings and frustrations.



What Are the Functions of an Interface Person?


The main goal of such a consultant is to carry out your agenda by performing some or all of the following functions.


1. Team Member

He or she works as part of your team on such things as developing strategy, providing necessary contacts, and drafting and reviewing documents.


2. Relationship Manager

He establishes and maintains open lines of communication with key people in Russia. When talking to the Russians, he always makes it clear that he works for you and talks on your behalf. The consultant maintains contact with you and/or your team to stay fully informed. He also regularly talks with your Russian partners and the appropriate Russian government people. He creates an open, nonthreatening environment where the Russian side is comfortable asking questions. He explains your position and the context in which you have to operate; he knows what information you are likely to need and asks questions on your behalf. After each exchange with the Russian side he writes a report, alerting you to new opportunities, to a possible conflict or to an action that you need to take. 


3. Communications Consultant

He prepares your correspondence to the Russian side and makes sure that it meets the requirements of your partners. If there is a need for a Russian letter to come to the United States, the consultant will help the Russians draft the letter so that it says what the U.S. side needs to see.


4. Negotiator

He often negotiates on your behalf. This may involve something as simple as the minutes of the board meeting, or as involved as a letter of intent, parts of a joint venture agreement, or pricing structure of your joint bid. You will rely on your interface person to conduct back channel negotiations.


5. Facilitator

He may facilitate your internal meetings to assist your company in arriving at a unified position on your Russian project. He also helps you take advantage of opportunities to enhance your network. When you travel to Russia, the interface consultant will make sure that you are comfortable, and that the trip is smooth and productive.


6. Project Manager

Small businesses often cannot afford to dedicate a manager to your Russian endeavor. The interface person then fills in. In my experience, this function often has to do with keeping people informed of what others are doing, and making sure that documents, such as a joint venture agreement, go through your internal review process in a timely manner.


7. Translation and Interpretation Manager

He will have all documents translated, and will hire interpreters for face-to-face meetings. 



How to Hire a Good Interface Person


Below are qualities, skills, and background recommended for a good interface person. 


·       Graduate degree preferred (negotiation or mediation training recommended)

·       Bilingual and bicultural

·       Ability to understand complex business issues

·       Initiative and creativity

·       Patience

·       Excellent writing skills in both languages

·       Excellent communication skills

·       Strong analytical ability

·       Ability to work well as part of the team

·       Ability and willingness to serve as interpreter and translator


The most important qualities to look for are integrity and judgment. Remember that you are hiring a person to promote your agenda for you, to speak for you, sometimes to think for you. When interviewing, consider, “Do I feel comfortable with this person? Can I trust them? Can I trust their judgment?” 



How to Best Use an Interface Person


For a small to medium-sized business, the function of the interface person is best served by an outside consultant as you might find it difficult to keep your interface person busy full-time. Also, the interface person usually talks to people at all levels in your company—from a secretary to vice president, and sometimes CEO. In my experience, it is much easier to perform this function when working outside the company hierarchy.  You will find much more freedom in communicating with the interface person when he is not in your direct employ. At times you will want to find out your partner’s reaction before putting a proposal on the table. Besides, the back channel negotiation is much easier when the interface person is not an employee and therefore is not viewed as representing an official position of your company. Putting your interface person on retainer will help keep costs down and ensure that the person is available when you need him.

There are two key things you need to do to ensure that your interface person is effective. First, he has to be fully informed of what’s going on with and around your Russian endeavor. You need to share your thought processes, not just decisions and facts. He needs to know much more than what he will end up transferring to the Russians. Second, you should appropriately position this person with your Russian counterparts: The Russians need to understand that you fully trust your interface person, that you designate him to speak for you, and that if the Russians need to communicate something to you, they need to get in touch with your interface person.



Julia Karpeisky is a president of JMK Contact, Inc., a firm offering a full range of interface services to U.S. organizations doing business in Russia and other former Soviet republics. She can be contacted by email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

This report is provided courtesy of the Business Information Service for the Newly Independent States (BISNIS) 




Why Do You Need an Interface Consultant?

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In order for the Russians to seriously do business with you, they need to first make you their friend. They need to trust you, like you, and respect you. Your schedule is already over booked, and you simply cannot afford the time it takes to build a personal relationship. You need to show results, and you need to do it quickly. In addition, you may be uncomfortable engaging at a level the Russians require in order to be a friend the way they understand friendship. 

Read more: Why Do You Need an Interface Consultant?


Senior Level Relationship Creation and Management

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This is the key function of the interface person. We bridge the gap between the Russian need for personal relationships and your requirement to efficiently move toward your desired results.

Even though there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings, we will minimize your personal involvement, while maximizing effectiveness of your communication with the Russians.We will build your relationship for you by helping you and your counterparts overcome initial attitudes of hostility and distrust. We will help your get to know each other, and find common interests. In the beginning, we may be the one thing that you have in common.

We establish and maintain open lines of communication with key people in Russia. When talking to the Russians, we always make it clear that we work for you and speak on your behalf. If they need to contact you, they get in touch with us, and we either handle the matter or arrange for a phone call with you.

We create an open, nonthreatening environment where the Russian side is comfortable speaking openly and asking questions. We explain your position and the context in which you operate; we also explain to you the Russian situation and the reasons for their behavior. We know what information you are likely to need and ask the appropriate questions. After each exchange with the Russian side, we write a report for you and your team, alerting you to new opportunities, possible conflicts, or to actions that you need to take.

In our many years in business we have discovered that regularly scheduled short phone conversations between you and your Russian partners are an efficient way to enhance your relationship, and to keep your project moving. When you meet afterwards, there is a tremendous difference in how much easier it is for both of you to reach an agreement.

In consultation with you and the Russians, we prepare the agenda for the call, conduct preliminary discussion of the issues, and inform you of each other’s thinking (only to the extent directed by you). After the conversation we talk with the Russians again to ensure that there are no misunderstandings.

Obviously, all of our interactions with you and the Russians are kept confidential.



Intercultural Management Consulting

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Have you ever participated in a costly trip to Russia, where your team delivered a presentation on your company’s capabilities, the Russians said they were interested, you came home excited looking forward to closing a profitable deal, only to discover that weeks and months later there was no follow-up? Have you ever felt frustrated with how long it takes to get things done in Russia? Have you ever felt “stuck”, working hard but not making much progress on your Russian project?

A source of these difficulties often lies in insufficient understanding of what the Russians need in order to do business. One of the more common mistakes Americans make is that they skip the foundation building stage. While it could take from several months to a year, this stage is a prerequisite for success of the project. The time is spent collecting the necessary information, as well as identifying and building key relationships.

Another source is the stress produced by the need to work in a foreign environment, where a big part of what you know and rely on does not apply.

Based on our knowledge of the Russian business reality and the best industry practices for getting things done in Russia, we will advise you on how to devise a realistic strategy and a project plan. We will plan for and put in place all necessary resources including a local office, translators and interpreters both in the US and Russia.  By having a realistic plan and a sound implementation strategy you will produce long-term, lasting results for your business, avoid frustration, save time and resources.

An additional powerful set of skills we bring to the table is that of executive coaching. We help you make progress under most stressful circumstances. As Franklin Covey certified executive coaches, we are trained to serve as your sounding board, helping you clarify your thoughts, telling you the truth the way we see it. In our coaching arsenal we have many tools that would facilitate your finding your own answers, thus promoting growth and self-sufficiency; see your “blind spots”, get moving when you feel “stuck” and achieve your best potential. Many of our clients find it incredibly valuable to have an opportunity to freely and in complete confidence discuss what’s on their mind with a skilled sophisticated professional who understands their business and is fully on their side.



Intercultural Communications Consulting

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Have you ever felt that despite the help of competent interpreters, you and your Russian counterparts talk past each other? The reason for this is that cultural differences cause you to attribute meaning differently to the same words, behaviors, and events. Another source of misunderstanding is differences in communication styles and difficulty in interpreting each other’s body language. We bridge this gap by assisting you in making your written and oral communication truly effective.

While the majority of problems that we help solve are caused by cultural differences, there are others that transcend cultures. One such problem shared by Russians and Americans is insufficient information flow between the decision-makers and “worker-bees.” We communicate vertically as well as horizontally thus preventing delays caused by lack of communication throughout the organizational hierarchy.


Written Communication

The American communication style is direct and efficient. Americans require and provide only the information immediately related to the issue in question. A typical American business letter is short, straight to the point, and it often begins with the bottom line – the purpose for which the letter was written. The Russian style is indirect with high need for context. A typical Russian business letter is long, contains the history of the issue; and the main point usually does not appear until the very end. The Russians often view American letters as too aggressive and rude; and the Americans often view the Russian letters as not saying anything, even when the Russian authors intend to deliver a very strong message.

We prepare your correspondence to the Russian side and make sure that it meets the requirements of your partners. If there is a need for a Russian letter to come to the United States, we will help the Russians draft the letter in such a way that the US side will receive the intended message.


Oral Communication: Hearing what is said as well what is not said; understanding the meaning

There are many factors that can interfere with your ability to understand your Russian counterparts. The rich facial expressions, intense emotional reactions, and seemingly inappropriate use of jokes by the Russians may make you uncomfortable and hence hinder your ability to comprehend what they are saying. Because of the language and cultural differences, you may be unable to process the body language and side comments, which makes it impossible for you to “feel” what’s going on in the room. An easy trap to fall into is to rehearse your next statement instead of listening to your counterpart. This is especially true if you have a set of talking points that you must deliver. Emotional attachment to issues or feelings of anger and frustration can make it difficult to hear the other side.

Our interface consultants are dispassionate observers whose main responsibility is to listen, understand and analyze. We are professionally trained in processing verbal and non-verbal communication in both cultures. We take in facial expressions and side conversations. We then provide you with insights on the meaning and nuances of what really happened during the meeting. We will talk with your counterparts after the meeting, clarify misunderstandings, uncover what the Russians need, and bring the issues we are not qualified to handle to your attention. We will advise you on the best course of action to take to advance your agenda.

Communicating vertically as well as horizontally

Often, an agreement has been reached at the highest levels, but the implementation is lagging. The reason for this is often the breakdown in vertical communication between the decision-makers and people responsible for execution.

Our interface consultants work at all levels of the organizational hierarchy on the Russian and American sides – from administrative assistants to executives. We make sure that things are getting done, and we alert you to any potential problems.



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