When thinking about working or expanding business overseas, it’s vital to build an understanding of global business etiquette. Not only does it help you make a positive first impression and foster trust, but it demonstrates professionalism and respect for clients, colleagues, suppliers and their cultures. 

While there are some universal standards, navigating the diverse landscape of international nuances can be tricky. Here we take you through some tips to navigate the diverse landscape of international business…

Greetings: The way you greet someone can instantly convey your respect for them and their culture. Different cultures have various non-verbal and verbal greetings, such as handshakes or bows and you should adapt your greeting style accordingly. For example, in Japan, it is typical to bow when greeting one another. Handshakes do occur on occasion, but you should wait for them to be initiated. 

Punctuality: Views on timekeeping vary globally – from Germany where punctuality is valued almost to a fault, to India where you can often expect your Indian counterparts to be late. Regardless of location, however, being on time yourself is generally a sign of professionalism and respect.

Gift-Giving: Giving gifts can be a great way to start a business relationship, or cement a friendship. However, we must be mindful of local customs and anti-bribery laws, the latter applies to the United States so you should tread carefully. In some cultures, the act of giving is more important than the gift itself, and timing and presentation matter. In China, for example, gift giving is customary and tradition dictates that gifts are refused up to three times before being accepted. It is essential to continue offering your present until it is finally taken.

Business Card Protocol: In a digital age, it may seem surprising, but business cards are still an essential part of relationship building, particularly in Asian cultures. In some places, like the Philippines, presenting a business card with both hands is a sign of respect, while in others, it’s acceptable to accept a card and put it away promptly. Playing with or writing on business cards is best avoided. 

Meetings over meals: In some countries, meetings often occur over lunch or dinner. Hospitality is a way of life in the Arab world while you can expect long, lingering lunches in France. Be mindful of what you order, as some choices may be considered vulgar – for example, if everyone else at the table is ordering vegetarian dishes, it may be frowned upon to choose a meat dish. 

Language is key: The words you choose can make or break a relationship and seal the fate of your business deal. In some countries, such as France or Italy, it’s best to be direct but polite, avoiding long-winded explanations or claims. Whereas in other cultures, such as in China and India, the word ‘no’ almost doesn’t exist – instead it’s best to avoid a firm negative, and opt for more neutral phrases. 

Unusual meeting locations: In certain countries, what others would consider unusual in business is part of the course. In Finland, saunas are a time-honored tradition so don’t be surprised if you’re invited to continue business discussions in the heat. While in South Korea,  it’s common for guests to be expected to join in noraebang, or karaoke – so perhaps book some singing lessons before your trip.

Business etiquette

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