Learning their language is one way to commit to building a business relationship with your international clients, but understanding the corporate culture in each country – and clearly navigating any differences in business etiquette – will help your organisation to form successful connections with your culturally varying partners.
In this post, we review a few of the common business etiquette best practices across Europe and how these compare with the UK, with a focus on key economies such as France, Germany, Italy and Spain. (You may also want to take a look at this excellent infographic from ForexTime, which neatly visualises these ideas at a glance.)
Shaking hands on greeting
The handshake is a consistent feature of the European business greeting, although you may find that the German business handshake has a firmer grip. An Italian handshake may also evolve into a kiss on the cheek (or more the press of cheek against cheek) as you develop your business relationship.
Correcting your address
Wherever you are in Europe, start out by using the title and surname of the person you are working with until you are invited to use their first name. This is also a great opportunity to bring in your language skills by using the correct title in each language – so Frau or Herr in German, for example, and Señor or Señora in Spanish.
Offering your business card
French, German, Italian and Spanish businesspeople will always be keen to receive your business card, just like businesspeople in the UK. Remember to stock up on business cards when you leave the office for a meeting (and to stow them away carefully) – a pristine business card can help you make a great first impression.
Getting started with an agenda
Agendas are a great tool for keeping your meetings on track, and they are widely utilised in European business meetings. However, the overall usefulness of an agenda does seem to vary across Europe.
As a rule, it makes sense to provide an agenda for a successful meeting – but you may find that your Italian and Spanish contacts will take a looser approach to generating outcomes and following the agenda.
Preparing to be flexible – but still being prepared – will help you to adapt to whichever way the meeting naturally evolves.
Communicating across the personal-professional divide
This is the main area where differences start to appear in the way that businesspeople interact across European cultures. In Italy and Spain, you may find that there is a firm emphasis on relationship building and ‘getting to know you’ before you settle down to business – this may, in fact, be a key part of developing your professional relationship, as it allows you to foster trust and mutual understanding.
UK businesspeople, while valuing small talk, tend to remain impersonal in comparison to their Italian and Spanish counterparts, favouring topics such as the weather to get the conversational ball rolling. French and German business professionals, on the other hand, will be strictly business for the most part.
As you can see, the differences across Europe can be more subtle than those experienced cross-continentally – but understanding the nuances of your European partners’ preferred approaches to business may be crucial for easing any tension that may result from the post-Brexit business landscape.
In our next blog, we will take a wider look at business etiquette across the globe, looking at countries such as China, Japan, India and the US. In the meantime, please do get in touch with us at Simon & Simon if you would like to find out more about the cross-cultural training courses we can provide to help your organisation navigate the subtleties of conducting international business with respect.