The world might be getting smaller, but it’s still very difficult to navigate. This is especially true in business, where negotiations can fail and deals can fall through due to a cultural misunderstanding. To succeed in the global business environment, you need to throw out many of your assumptions about the way people connect, collaborate and communicate.
While stereotyping individuals is dangerous, every country has its own cultural values, social institutions, beliefs and thought processes. Knowing these can help you create stronger, deeper business relationships. To get ahead, you must respect, and make a responsible effort to learn from, other cultures.
Take this quiz to check your international business know-how:
How did you do? Here are more tips to help you prepare for meetings with foreign business partners. You’ll find more business etiquette guides on the internet, but the most comprehensive resource, covering more than 200 countries, is the community-supported Culture Crossing Guide. (Bonus: This website also has tips for students!)
- You will be expected to bring a gift to a business meeting. Don’t be surprised if the recipient declines the gift a few times; after three or so attempts, it will be accepted. Avoid blue, white and black wrapping paper.
- Dress conservatively; women should not wear high heels.
- Use formal titles.
- Be punctual.
- Accept a business card with both hands, and examine it carefully to show respect.
- Be on time; showing up even a few minutes late is highly disrespectful.
- Presenting and accepting business cards is an even more formal process here than in China. Accept a business card with both hands and a nod, examine it, and then put it in a special place like a breast pocket or business card case. Never fold a business card or write on it.
- Group people at the meeting table by the level of seniority. A junior executive should not be sitting across from a C-suite member.
- Expect to socialize over dinner and drinks — and, very likely, a little karaoke!
- Small talk is expected at the beginning of the meeting.
- You will be offered tea, coffee or water at each meeting. It’s disrespectful to refuse. Accept something, even if you don’t drink it.
- Don’t say “thank you” after your host has paid for a meal.
- Do not order beef at business meetings, as cows are considered sacred to most Indians. For the same reason, don’t wear leather accessories if possible.
- Soccer is always an acceptable topic for an icebreaker.
- You will be judged on your appearance, including your nails. Buy a well-tailored suit and get a manicure before your meeting.
- Brazilians will stand close to you and use a lot of physical contact. This is a sign of trust.
- Brazilians will often interrupt each other. This is not considered rude.
- Be on time. Lateness is not an option.
- Don’t expect small talk.
- The decision-making process will most likely be slow and very focused on details. Once a decision is made, a project will move swiftly and deadlines will be met.
- Use formal titles and last names.
- The U.K. has been moving toward more informal clothing in business settings, but you should err on the side of dressing more conservatively for important meetings.
- Don’t ask a lot of personal questions at the beginning of a business relationship; the British prize their privacy. Personal space is also important.
- Allow some time for small talk at the beginning of a meeting.
- Expect to hear “please” and “thank you” a lot, as the British are very polite even in casual situations.
- Unless you speak the language fluently, always apologize for your poor French skills.
- Gifts are rarely expected, but if you choose to give something, opt for cultural and artistic gifts such as books and music.
- Shake hands at the beginning and end of each meeting.
- Make a good impression by wearing conservative, well-tailored clothing and avoiding bright colors.
- In a fashion-conscious country like Italy, your hosts will expect you to wear quality clothing and accessories.
- Good icebreakers include culture, wine, food and family.
- Avoid doing deals involving the number 17 — pricing, number of units and so on — as it is considered unlucky.
- Meetings will start with some small talk.
United Arab Emirates
- Don’t be too forward. What might be seen as honesty in the United States could be misinterpreted as confrontation in the UAE.
- While many Emirati women may wear traditional clothing (such as a hijab), there is no expectation that foreign women should do the same.
- Your hosts will expect you to be at meetings on time, although they might be late themselves.
- Engage in small talk before the meeting begins.