Creating a good impression of yourself and your business is key when trying to develop new supply chains, business contacts or negotiate a deal. This isn’t so difficult when you understand the cultural norms and the type of behaviour expected. But in a foreign country this can vary wildly. Business etiquette is a difficult to understand on an international level, but there are a few things you can easily remember that will help ensure you make a good impression when on a foreign business trip.
From the very first minute you meet new potential clients or suppliers, you have to make a good impression. Every country expects something a little different and you need to adapt to this. In the majority of countries, they expect you to be well dressed, have a firm handshake, address them properly and hand over a business card. However, there are many exceptions to this rule. In Asia for example most countries expect a softer handshake and to pass business cards respectfully with two hands. How you greet someone is also really important, most European nations have their own versions of Mr and Mrs that you should always use. In Singapore there is no set title; you have to greet people with a title that is based on their ethnic origin.
Most business trips involve a formal meeting but these can be wildly different to the way UK meetings are held. In many countries small talk before starting to discuss business is obligatory. It is also common for communication to be either direct or in-direct. You must follow the style of communication in that country – or you run the risk of coming across as rude and a timewaster. You will also find that a lot of countries do not rigorously follow an agenda. Meetings can be a real minefield, but researching before you go and mirroring the behaviour of other people in the meeting will help to ensure you do not offend your hosts.
If you do go for an evening meal with your hosts, then you have to be exceptionally careful as dining etiquette can be very different in every country. Starting a meal has its own rules. In Russia you cannot start eating until after a toast has been made, whereas in Hong Kong you can’t start before your host. In Taiwan you are expected to leave some rice in your bowl, but if you don’t finish everything on your plate in Denmark it is considered very rude. Even utensils are subject to strict rules. The Swiss expect potatoes to be cut with a fork not a knife, and in India and the Middle East, eating with your left hand is considered dirty. And some places have what may seem bizarre expectations; South Koreans usually finish a special meal with Karaoke – and you will be expected to join in!
There is clearly a lot to think about when visiting a foreign country on business, but most cultural practices can be easily researched before you go. Ensure that you have no language slip-ups either with an live (human) interpreter in your pocket should you need them!
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