Don’t set off to a foreign business meeting without checking Lynne Brennan’s
guide to manners and mores
This is a quick reference guide to the business etiquette and customs of some
of the leading business territories designed to smooth your way through
business trips and help you make a profitable impression with foreign business
Hopefully this advice does not fall into the trap of being
over-prescriptive; bear in mind it is general and will not apply in all cases.
Business tips: Major business decisions are made at the highest level – but
not necessarily by the people you are negotiating with – and they can take a
Formalities: Business cards should be printed in both languages. Meetings
are generally cordial, but beware of over-familiarity on our part.
Business tips: Australians are very approachable; they like straight talk,
don’t appreciate being pressurised and hate being patronised. Business is
conducted informally, preferably without showmanship, so get to the point.
Formalities: Business may be relaxed and casual, but dropping in unannounced
is not a good move.
People’s republic of China
Business tips: Punctuality is extremely important. Turning up late may be
considered a personal affront. Decisions are often made by committees and often
at the last moment, so be patient.
Formalities: Bow the head slightly when being introduced. Handshaking is
Business tips: Try to speak as much French as possible to show respect. Know
your business subject in detail as your hosts will enjoy probing and debating
at an intellectual level.
Formalities: Men often stand when a senior person enters a room.
Negotiations are conducted with formality and restraint. French business runs a
constant battle against all-invasive and painstaking bureaucracy. Shaking hands
is customary when greeting and leaving.
Business tips: Decisions are usually made collectively at several levels,
and implemented with vigour and attention to detail. Cut the jokes. Business is
generally approached earnestly and solemnly.
Formalities: Handshaking is expected all round – firm but brief, with eye
Business tips: Decisions are usually taken at the highest levels with middle
managers as go-betweens. Close personal relationships are important, as is
small talk and hospitality. The word ‘no’ is considered abrupt; ‘I’m not sure’
Formalities: Remove shoes before entering houses that have them lined up
Business tips: Most Italians prefer to conduct business in their own
language. It is advisable to get your own interpreter. As a matter of respect,
Italians prefer to conduct business with the highest-ranked executive possible.
Formalities: Seniority and age are highly respected. Business structures can
be complex, but the command structure and hierarchy are extremely important.
Business tips: Unsolicited approaches are disliked. Get an introduction from
a mutual contact such as a bank or respected business associates.
Formalities: People prefer and may insist on conducting business with their
exact equivalent levels from other companies. Business cards are essential, and
you should be seen to read them carefully. If one is handed to you with two
hands, then you should receive it with both hands. Your business card should be
printed in Japanese and English.
Business tips: The Dutch are direct people who like to get down to business
quickly. They do not respond well to exaggeration or the unsubstantiated hard
sell. Be direct.
Formalities: Punctuality is essential as are appointments.
Business tips: Most businesses have rigid hierarchies with decisions taken
by the top person only.
Formalities: Business cards should be translated into Russian (Cyrillic
text) and presented Russian side up. Many meetings are minuted, which are
agreed to and signed at the end.
Business tips: The Spanish like quality business literature and respond well
to polished demonstrations.
Formalities: Have business cards printed in Spanish on one side.
Business tips: Compared with most other commercial cultures, business is
conducted at high speed (particularly in New York) with fast decision-making.
Middle managers have autonomy and can finalise deals.
Formalities: Small talk is short-lived; business is initiated briskly.
Top tips for travel
Training Magazine asked its readers
what to pack in a metaphorical suitcase for trips abroad:
– "I would pack my eyes, ears, head and heart. Eyes to
observe, ears to listen, head to think and heart to be sensitive to other
people and their cultures."
Morgan Chambers, Global Organisation and Development Director, Reed Elsevier
– "Always carry a smile for the
beginning of the meeting and a thank you for the end. These are a common
David Freedman, IT sector head, Huthwaite International
– "There are three key items to
carry to a successful business trip: research, communication and an open mind.
Always research the culture you are visiting before you leave the UK. Carry out
communication in clear English – no jargon. Be aware of alternative negotiation
Adrian Harding, director, Giraffe Group