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International business customs worth noting - Blog

International business customs worth noting

With business becoming more and more global, the likelihood is that you’ll be expected to travel for work more often too. It’s important to do your research thoroughly beforehand though, as cultures differ from country to country, and as a result, how people conduct business transactions can also change from place to place.

With business becoming more and more global, the likelihood is that you’ll be expected to travel for work more often too. It’s important to do your research thoroughly beforehand though, as cultures differ from country to country, and as a result, how people conduct business transactions can also change from place to place. What is considered acceptable in one culture, may not be in another. So as to avoid embarrassing moments that can leave people feeling offended and could lead to the end of a business relationship, remember that there isn’t a universal set of rules when it comes to international business customs, and it’ll be worth your while to familiarise yourself with the following:

Be aware of personal space

Respecting someone’s personal space already has a place in everyday life, but even more so in the boardroom. Whilst a handshake is a commonly acceptable form of greeting, especially when meeting someone for the first time, it may not always be the case, so it’s best to hold back when in doubt. Observe what others do and you’ll be able to work out quickly whether or not you should proceed with an out-stretched arm. In some cultures, greeting men and women can also differ – you may observe that men hug and kiss each other hello, yet when it comes to women, the same is not acceptable. This is where proper research will stand you in good stead – the last thing you want is to make a faux pas like this with a prospective client.

Good to know:

  • Brazilians tend to use a fair amount of physical contact during conversation and can stand very close to one another as well. Closeness inspires trust in Brazil, which in turn, leads to long-lasting relationships.
  • In Morocco it’s customary to shake the person’s hand to your right first, before moving round to the people on your left.

Business card etiquette

Most business people in the West don’t think much of business cards – they view them simply as having an informational purpose. Accepting a business card and just as fast shoving it into your pocket or briefcase usually happens without a second thought. However, in other parts of the world, business cards are seen as more than just pieces of paper – they call for respect.

Good to know:

  • In China and Japan, it’s customary to present or receive a business card with two hands, while simultaneously bowing. Avoid sliding it across the table.
  • In Arab countries you should use your right hand to take a business card as the left is reserved for personal hygiene.

Gifts and food/drink

In some cultures, it’s expected that gifts are presented or exchanged during a meeting. This act is viewed as a sign of admiration and respect. The offering of certain foods or drink in certain settings can be a symbol of hospitality and a welcoming gesture intended to make the visitor/guest feel at home and comfortable. This can be odd for some people as it isn’t usually part of how they conduct business, so as not to offend your business associates, it’s worth looking into the customs surrounding such exchanges or presentations.

Good to know:

In Egypt it’s considered rude not to accept tea or coffee when it’s presented to you – you should graciously accept even if you don’t really want to.

In China, it’s customary to bring a small gift from your home country to business meetings – it will be greatly appreciated by your counterparts. Avoid: clocks (they represent death) and also white, blue and black wrapping paper.

Here are a few more interesting international business customs:

Finland: Long periods of silence are to be expected during meetings.

South Korea: There is a high level of respect held for elders so one should always greet them first and follow that with a few moments spent talking to them.

Russia: It is considered rude to stand with your hands in your pockets.

Canada: Canadians are extremely punctual with meetings being well-organised. Time schedules tend to be adhered to strictly and so one should make an effort to be on time for business gatherings.

Mexico: It is more common to conduct business over lunch than dinner.

Being in touch with the business etiquette associated with the country in which you plan to do business is a smart move on your behalf. It will not only help you make a memorable impression, but it will also help you conduct business more smoothly.

 

Featured image: http://www.franchir-japan.co.jp