Taking your business international is an exciting and significant milestone in your business career. However, while dealing with the international side, you may face some intricacies due to cultural differences. No need to be discouraged- this doesn’t need to be a hurdle in your international business relations. All you need to do is understand, first and foremost, the culture you’ll be traveling to and then their business etiquette. The process could actually prove quite gratifying and an excellent learning opportunity.
Talking to business experts, we have compiled a list of their best advice on internal business etiquette.
“An entrepreneur should get a basic awareness of which sorts of verbal communication are considered proper in the country before traveling internationally for business. Greetings and salutations are the first steps in verbal communication. Individuals in the United States and several Western European countries, for example, commonly greet one another with a handshake. A handshake, on the other hand, is not common in many Asian cultures. Strangers bow to welcome each other in these situations.” (Adam Garcia)
“In addition to greetings, proper conversation topics differ by area. Conversations in the United States, as well as other nations such as China and India, frequently begin with light-hearted pleasantries such as 'great weather we're having’, before moving on to the topic at hand. Small chat, on the other hand, is frequently frowned upon in England. It is customary in this country to 'cut to the chase’.”
Adam Garcia, Founder of The Stock Dork
“I think the most important international business etiquette that every business person should practice is pronouncing names right. It is annoying and disrespectful when a person you're speaking to keeps saying your name wrong. Eastern European and Asian names can be tricky to pronounce. You can easily find videos on how to pronounce a name and practice it before your meeting. If you aren't sure if you're getting it right- just ask at the beginning of the call!
Nikita Agarwal, Head of Growth at Milestone Localization
“For example, compared to most Americans, Japanese are introverts. Giving feedback that they are not speaking up is out of line if you don’t have the cultural context. Give your introverted teammates airtime in meetings and do not talk over them.” (Rowena Murakami)
“Be conscious about setting meetings when you have attendees on the other side of the globe. Take turns in taking night calls or ask for their preferred work schedule. Take the extra step in checking if they have holidays too.”
Rowena Murakami, Co-Founder of Tiny Kitchen Divas Blog.
“Always research the specifics of whichever country you are about to visit, to learn how to behave when being introduced to people, during meetings and at mealtimes as a minimum. Ideally you should also read a book like Erin Meyer’s ‘The Culture Map’ and research how your home culture and the country you plan to visit look on that scale.” (Kathryn Read)
“At the very least, you should learn to say ‘good morning’ or ‘hello’, as well as ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in the local language. This is within the capability of every business traveller and people will appreciate the effort you made.” (Kathryn Read)
“Accept invitations for dinner or drinks if they’re offered - obviously you don’t have to go overboard with alcohol but don’t turn your hosts down. Show interest in the country you’re visiting and be open for new experiences by asking questions with genuine curiosity.” (Kathryn Read)
“Bring along a small gift such as a coffee table book with selected photos of your home country or region to say thank you for the hospitality. I’d avoid any kinds of food or drinks for initial meetings as it’s too easy to get this wrong.” (Kathryn Read)
“Err on the cautious/conservative side with your choice of clothes and words until you know people better. Always write a thank you note after your trip or meeting.”
Kathryn Read, International Sales and Marketing Consultant
“Do not touch, point at or stare. These are considered rude gestures in various cultures. There is a very important saying: think before you act, and this applies to international business etiquette as well! Be mindful of your physical gestures since they may be misunderstood by the person who sees them.” (Megha Gaedke)
“Learn more about a culture before you visit it or start to conduct business there. When meeting with people from another country, learn their language so that they feel respected and comfortable around you. Keep your promises! Be punctual for meetings; this is considered rude if done outside of your country.” (Megha Gaedke)
“In some countries, if one is on the phone and gets called to a meeting, it's considered polite for that person to step out of the conversation mid-sentence so as not to offend their colleague or customer. If this happens, start with I am sorry, then state your reason for not being able to talk and wrap it up with thank you.” (Megha Gaedke)
“In some cultures, if a person is standing over another person who's seated, then the first individual could be interpreted as aggressive or disrespectful! Be sure that when greeting someone in their country, shake hands (or whatever custom they do) and make eye contact.”
Megha Gaedke, Founder of KetoConnect
“My top international business etiquette is to show up at least five minutes before the agreed time. Time is a resource that people can not get back, so it is best to respect people’s time by coming earlier to the venue. Doing so shows that you care about their time and makes you more respectable when they arrive.
“You can be productive while waiting for them to arrive by checking your emails or checking on a project’s progress. In this scenario, you are spending your time productively without compromising your relationship with the other party.”
Stephen Light, Co-Owner and Chief Marketing Officer at Nolah