In honor of Labor Day, we thought we would take a trip around the world to review business customs and etiquette. What we take for “normal” corporate behavior is not always universal. The best way to ease business interactions is to know some basic rules of the road wherever you travel. Here are some pointers:
Attire: Business casual is not universal and truly doesn’t exist throughout Europe’s business culture (with the exception of Sweden). Both Israel and Singapore have a much more casual approach to business attire, equally as casual as the US. But these are the exceptions. Dressing professionally and with attention to detail is very important from Asia to Europe (particularly in Spain and Italy).
Chit-chat: The American acceptance and participation in small talk is not a worldwide phenomenon. When in other countries, be aware that many meetings will start with absolutely no discussion of your travels here, your recent vacations, etc. In addition, Sweden and Norway have an intolerance for speaking aloud in elevators. It makes them quite uncomfortable, so stay silent for the ride. Italians have a gift for gab and appreciate a fair amount of small talk before the meeting, even if it delays the meeting’s onset.
Gestures and Facial Expressions: Smiling too much is a no-no in Russian business circles. It is perceived as duplicitous. In South Korea, Japan and China, expressing displeasure during a meeting is considered rude, so keeping a veneer of equanimity is the best bet while the meeting progresses.
Business Cards: The proffering or reception of a business card may seem to be a pretty mundane thing. Certainly, it is in the US, Canada, Mexico and Europe. But many Asian countries expect a certain reverence for the business card. In Japan, Taiwan, India, Singapore and China, cards should be received with two open hands and not put into a back pocket.
Behavior at Meetings: American meetings have a reputation for having an agenda and then famously not sticking to them. We’re not alone in this behavior. Such digressions are also common in Canada, Brazil, Russia, Spain and Italy. Having a culture of more attention to the agenda is common in Germany, Switerland, the UK, Australia and New Zealand.
In short, follow the lead of your host when you are traveling abroad for business meetings. Spend some time learning not only about the deal you are pursuing, but about the expected behaviors in the conference room and at the restaurants to make your host feel that you understand their position and where they come from.