Simply being aware and sensitive to the customs of other cultures can go a long way in making sure you don’t make a major cultural “faux pas” that can cost you or your company the lucrative business deal you so wanted to acquire.
For that very reason many leading corporations know how important international business etiquette training is for their top executive travellers.
I recently read an article in Forbes where a fellow Canadian, Stephen Flowers, president of global freight forwarding at UPS, and avid business traveller gives an example of what motivated him to compile a list of “country by country observations, that will hopefully help others when they do business with people from other countries.”
Flowers narrates that, “I recently asked a Chinese business associate how many children he had. This was an insensitive blunder on my part, since I knew that the government limits members of the ethnic Han majority to have only one child. My own mistake motivated me to compile this list…”
Here’s a list of international business etiquette rules, country by country, that you should be aware of:
- Though meetings often run late, never leave early. It is considered rude to exit before the gathering ends.
- Be aware of big, popular celebrations, such as Carnival, during which almost everything shuts down, and the upcoming 2014 soccer World Cup. Brazilians are social and passionate about these events, and prioritize them over doing business. Further ahead: the 2016 summer Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro.
- Brazilians stand very close and use physical contact during conversations. In Brazil, closeness inspires trust, and trust inspires long-term relationships.
- Be on time. Canadians tend to be extremely punctual and meetings are well-organized and adhere to time schedules.
- There are fewer class extremes within Canada. Whereas the U.S. has a shrinking middle class, most Canadian fall into the country’s large middle class.
- Though the government funds more social programs than the U.S., such as healthcare, both business and government rely on a financially conservative approach.
- Give yourself a Chinese name if you’re an expat conducting long-term business. It’s considered a sign of respect and commitment.
- Bring a small gift from your hometown or country to business meetings.Chinese businesspeople appreciate presents. One gift to avoid: clocks as they represent death. Also, do not use white, black or blue wrapping paper.
- The Chinese will decline a gift three times before finally accepting, so as not to appear greedy. You will have to continue to insist. Once the gift is accepted, express gratitude. You will be expected to go through the same routine if you are offered a gift.
- Business meetings are very formal events and dinner meetings can feature many rounds of toasts; be sure to pace yourself so you don’t overindulge.
- A no-nonsense culture, Germans are hard-working and business events are very structured, serious engagements.
- Germans are passionate about vehicles.In many cases, compensation packages will include a car, and the type of car is almost as important as how much one makes.
- Don’t be surprised if other guests arrive a few minutes late to business events, unless it’s an official function. But don’t risk arriving late yourself; you won’t insult anyone by showing up on time.
- Indians are very polite. Avoid use of the word “no” during business discussions; it’s considered rude. Opt for terms such as “we’ll see,” “I will try,” or “possibly.”
- Don’t order beef if attending a business meal in India. Cows are considered sacredin Indian culture.
- Traditional Indian food is eaten with the hands. When it is necessary to use your hands, use only your right hand, as the left hand is considered unclean.
- Drinking alcohol is prohibited among Muslims, Sikhs and other Indian communities.
- Japanese culture is very welcoming and formal. Expect each of your counterparts to bow during an introduction. Wait for them to initiate a handshake because it is less common, and sometimes avoided, in business.
- The exchange of business cards is a very formal act that kicks off meetings. Present your card with two hands while facing your colleague. Do not conduct a brief exchange or slide your card across the table.
- During meetings, the most senior person will lead discussions and members of his or her party may not say a word. Follow this lead and have the most senior member of your team participate in discussions.
- When entering a meeting, you should sit across from your counterpart with a similar level of experience. Your junior staffers should not sit across from senior team members.
Don’t book another business flight that’s half-way across the world, without brushing up on your international business etiquette skills first.
If you’re a corporation, an international business etiquette training session can go a long way in making sure your top executives have the skills and confidence they need to bring the deal home.