Business Etiquette and Cultural Differences
Despite current travel restrictions, we continue to live in a global world. Every day, deliveries travel across the globe as corporations rely on international transactions, cross-border business and increasing their ever-growing markets. Yet, to sustain global business, one must also maintain healthy relationships with international clients and suppliers alike in order to survive, especially when times get tough. Apart from any border restrictions that the global pandemic has generated, doing business abroad has its own share of difficulties when compared to operations in an area where one is well accustomed to consumer preferences, partner relations and business etiquette. As a result, the attention given to the way we conduct business across borders depends on our overall intercultural interaction, and may even be a defining factor of the future business relationship, or lack of it.
To nurture a healthy business rapport and make your clients or suppliers feel welcome, pay close attention to the below factors when it comes to business etiquette, and research each one’s significance within the culture you intend on doing business with as each differs from culture to culture:
Eye contact may mean confidence or trust in some countries, whilst make a person feel uncomfortable in others. Make sure to restrain from using eye contact with those business partners who might find it overbearing, and learn which cultures view it as an important part of strength in character.
As most of us in Western cultures understand the importance of saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, we can then understand that particular words carry meaning in certain contexts. Choose your words wisely, keeping a particular situation in mind.
Gift-giving can be seen as a courteous sign or a strange act in countries that are not accustomed to such gestures, especially before getting to know each other well. If you do intend on giving a present, pay special attention to whether gifts should be wrapped, how they should be presented as well as the symbolic meaning of any items.
First impressions are everything, and your appearance is one of the first things a person notices about another individual. For some cultures, it is important to dress conservatively, formally or fashionably. Always dress the part, as you don’t want to come across as not having made an effort in your appearance for an important meeting.
Current social distancing measures aside, personal space or lack of it is viewed differently across multiple cultures. Whereas in Mediterranean countries, physical contact is customary and seen as a way of expressing comradery, in the Nordic and Oriental regions, not giving someone their personal space can be seen as rude or overbearing.
Research which people should enter or leave a room first in terms of business etiquette, where they should sit and who should lead the discussion. Some cultures may have customs based on seniority which you would not like to overstep.
Before fist bumps and elbow bumps, the handshake was seen as a customary greeting in Western culture. Read up on greetings around the world, whether it’s a head bow or presenting a business card with both hands.
While Mediterranean cultures may not all be very strict when it comes to punctuality and being late is almost expected, for others it may be deemed as a negative insinuation upon the value of their time. Similarly, be aware that leaving a meeting early in most cultures is frowned upon, while others value the importance of setting an appointment instead of showing up unannounced.
Different cultures and religions have their own food preferences, and whilst some animals are considered sacred and shouldn’t be eaten in certain cultures, other cultures do not eat animals that they consider dirty – so avoid ordering these items during a business lunch. Check up on customary table manners too.
Customs and traditions
Each country has its set of ideas on what is considered rude, or how to behave in certain situations, that cannot be categorised under one role. Some countries prefer formal engagements, whilst others tend to be more flexible. Before any meeting, do your research.