It can already be daunting to travel to another culture, let alone feel the additional pressure of trying not to insult your international business partners! Lucky for all of us, the most basic of business etiquette, no matter what continent you are on, are based on concepts rooted in simple common sense.
Essentially, you can follow some simple rules to ensure that you avoid faux pas and social landmines which may lead to business relationships going sour no matter what country you are in.
- Show respect - this is always held in high-regard. You do not have to agree, but you do have to respect.
- Be proactive in finding out about customs and traditions, this shows you care.
- Find the middle ground - don't try to be someone you are not, simply be yourself, in a version tailored to the particular situation you are in.
- Brush up on geography. Trust us. The last thing you want to do is show your ignorance of where you are in the world!
- Slow down! Your speaking patterns, slang and cadence make it much harder for people of other nationalities to follow you. Be aware, clearly ennunciate, but be careful not to seem condescending.
- Know the appropriate greetings. This is your first impression, know what is customary and avoid an embarrassing situation. Also find out beforehand how to address people.
- Over-gesticulate with your hands. This is a slippery slope - hand gestures are interpreted differently in all cultures and what you thought was a flippant staccato to your statement could serious insult someone.
- Touch. These can often be the most sensitive of the etiquette rules. In every country how, where and how often you can touch someone can vary hugely. Best to just avoid it altogether.
- Get too personal. Westerners can be very candid and conversation about personal life is quite normal. This is not always the case in other countries; steer clear of diving too deep by sticking to professionalism.
- Discuss politics or religion. Need we explain this one?
- Forget your humble attitude. Being confident is revered in Western countries, though many other places revere a humble and more low-profile persona when it comes to business.
Basically, the best favour you can do yourself is research. Knowing what you are walking into and knowing how you can remain respectful is of the utmost importance. Many countries develop stereotypical views about other foreigners based on those who decide to just 'wing-it'.
Do your best to change those stereotypes if you want your business to be reflected in a positive light.