International Business Etiquette

Monday, July 24, 2017 | Posted by: Alpha Kappa Psi

Travelling internationally for business can mean changing your typical approach to business interactions, depending on which country you’re visiting. When working with people on an international level, showing sensitivity to their customs, practices, and beliefs will help ensure all interactions go more smoothly. Below is a list of tips and tricks regarding some of the most common problem areas in international business etiquette.

  1. Punctuality

Although punctuality is important in many countries, such as Japan, China, Ireland, and Germany, others have more lax cultural expectations around punctuality. In fact, in countries like India, Finland, Brazil, and France, diving right into business matters is actually considered rude. In cases like this, it’s important to leave your preconceived notions of how business should operate at the door. You can end up disappointed if you expect to cut to the chase and find that everyone else would rather see a soccer match and drink beer first.

  1. Business Cards

Be sure to bring enough business cards. As you’re making contacts in other countries, you’ll want to be sure and understand the formal expectations of exchanging business cards. For example, in China, business cards are typically exchanged using both hands. It’s also wise to have your cards printed both in English and the language of your host country.

  1. Personal Space

Recommendations on personal space will vary widely from culture to culture. While most Asian countries, Great Britain, Germany, and Ireland are most often physically reserved and maintain personal boundaries, a great majority of countries including, Brazil, France, the Netherlands, much of South America, and Australia, exchange hugs or kisses on the cheek. This applies especially for female executives.

  1. Workflow

As mentioned above, many countries have specific protocol around how meetings should run. In several cases, meetings might flow more slowly than anticipated, with much time taken out for conversation about family and local historical sites or points of pride. For example, in Finland, business meetings may be conducted in saunas with little to no actual “business” conversation taking place. This is simply a time for building up trust and establishing rapport.

  1. Cultural Awareness

Take time to understand the cultural expectations, dietary restrictions, and major religions you might encounter in your travels. For example, when making small talk with a Chinese business man, it would be rude to ask him how many children he has—considering anyone of the Han ethnic majority in China can only have one child as mandated by their government. Questions that might be friendly and benign to Americans can have far reaching consequences elsewhere. There are also smaller cultural habits that might wreak havoc for your business communications, such as the notion in Germany that it’s rude to remove your suit jacket during a meeting.

Part of preparing for any international business trip should be researching  the specific cultural practices that can affect the success of your venture. Staying informed and cultivating a plan to address these differences and react appropriately will help ensure your trip goes well. What are your tips and tricks to doing international business; any interesting stories on the topic? Post in the comments below!


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