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19 October 2017

Understanding Business Etiquette around the World

Our previous post provided a glimpse at the subtle but potentially significant differences in business etiquette you may notice between countries across Europe. This time, however, we are expanding our horizons to consider the differences in corporate culture across the globe.

These differences may take you further away from your experience of corporate culture in the UK, but they can also present you with an opportunity to make an excellent and respectful first impression when working with new global partners (and avoid inadvertently causing offence!).

The handshake: Is it a universal greeting?

It is in most situations – though as you look beyond Europe, you will come to realise that the handshake is not your only option. In Japan, for example, a polite bow is more common, but the handshake still features in many Japanese boardrooms.

A firm handshake is an undeniably popular welcome in the USA and Canada, but your colleagues in India will favour a gentler handshake, and your Chinese business partners will show respect for their guests by shaking hands with the oldest and most senior member of your group first.

You should also remember to only shake hands using your right hand in some countries (such as the United Arab Emirates and India), as shaking hands with your left hand is seen to be disrespectful.

Choosing the most appropriate form of address

If in doubt regarding how to address a global client, opt for using their title and surname until you are invited to use their first name.

Businesspeople in some countries (such as the USA, Brazil and Australia) are usually quite happy for you to move straight to a first-name basis, but if you want to play it safe (especially when you are establishing a new business relationship) we suggest trying out the more formal approach first.

Handing over your business card

A business card is always welcome wherever you are doing business around the world. As you travel further from the UK, however, you should consider translating the information on your business card. Translated business cards are useful – and often expected – in Canada (French), Brazil (Portuguese), the United Arab Emirates (Arabic) and India (Hindi).

Using an agenda to guarantee outcomes

Your global business partners will likely appreciate the benefits of an agenda just as much as your European associates – and you will invariably find an agenda to be central to meetings in any country you do business in.

As with Europe, however, agendas are not always followed to the letter – for example, while your Japanese clients might deal with each item carefully, your partners in the United Arab Emirates may take a more relaxed approach to a structured meeting plan.

Building global relationships while respecting local corporate culture

Communication styles vary across the world, and some countries approach business relationships in a more formal way than others. In Japan, for example, the most senior members of the party will lead the way – and it is polite to mirror this approach with your own team, and where possible to sit across from someone of a similar experience level.

Eye contact is important in Canada, because it suggests a degree of confidence and sincerity. Your Indian business colleagues will enjoy the opportunity to get to know you in person and may even ask you questions about your personal life to find out more about you. Face-to-face communication in any country will enable you to build lasting business relationships based on your developing mutual respect.

Your language skills will also come to the fore as you travel further afield – if you are learning the local language, remember to use it! Your global colleagues will appreciate your efforts to communicate on their terms, even if you do need to revert to English at some stage.

Providing your organisation with cross-cultural communication training enables your colleagues to develop their communication skills and to build successful relationships with your global clients. To find out more about how you can prepare your organisation to successfully navigate global differences in corporate culture, contact us at Simon & Simon today.

Special thanks go to ForexTime for their helpful infographic on global business etiquette.

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Understanding business etiquette around the world
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Our previous post provided a glimpse at the subtle but potentially significant differences in business etiquette you may notice between countries across Europe.
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Simon and Simon International
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