Business Etiquette Around the World
Business etiquette will vary hugely from country to country. If you’re conducting business overseas, it’s vital that you’re aware of the different practices and protocols, so you don’t lose out on any opportunities.
Our quick guide to business etiquette can provide some information on the different business practices, from how you should greet people to what you should wear.
Most countries will initiate a handshake when meeting for business purposes. However, in France and Belgium, sometimes a cheek-to-cheek air kiss is common, although usually after a relationship has been established. In Japan, sometimes the greeting will involve a small bow. It might be best to wait for the other person to initiate the greeting if you’re unsure.
In those countries that use a handshake, it shouldn’t always be firm. Some countries, like South Korea, Hong Kong, and France require just a light handshake. In Vietnam, you should shake with both hands. In Russia, you should remove any gloves you might be wearing before you shake hands.
Different countries will require different levels of formality. In countries like Australia, Canada, and Sweden, it may be permissible to address people by their first name the first time you meet them. In other countries, like Germany, Hong Kong, and Brazil, you should use a more formal greeting, addressing people by the local equivalent of Mr. or Ms. and their surname.
In many countries, it is common practice in business to exchange gifts. They are seen as a way of strengthening business relationships, as well as a gesture of goodwill.
In Vietnam, you should give a gift at the end of the meeting, not the beginning. In both Russia and Singapore, the recipient will protest and decline the gift at first, before going on to take it. In Japan, the recipient won’t open the gift straight away but will open it later in private, so they can save you any embarrassment if they don’t like the gift.
In many countries, when you accept a gift, you should do so with both hands. This also applied to business cards, which can sometimes be exchanged more formally than you may be used to.
Many countries do not give gifts at business meetings, including in Hungary, Italy, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.
Different countries will have different views on punctuality. In most cases, it’s best to arrive on time. In Germany and Sweden especially, being late is not appreciated and you might start the business meeting on entirely the wrong foot if you leave someone waiting.
It’s also important to be punctual in Russia, although the person you are meeting isn’t likely to also be on time. Russians will often turn up late to a meeting, as a way of testing the patience of the person they are meeting. Don’t expect an apology when they do arrive and make sure to bring along a book or headphones to keep you entertained whilst you wait.
You should expect business meetings to run differently depending on what country you’re in. Some countries, like Spain, India, and the UAE, expect some small talk before you get down to business. Other countries, like Singapore, Switzerland, and France, will be more likely to get to the meeting agenda straight away.
In Germany, it’s best to speak directly and to the point. In other places, like India, you should avoid being too direct, saying “we’ll try” or “maybe” rather than “no”. In Vietnam, you shouldn’t argue if you disagree with a point, but you should remain silent instead. You should also avoid making a promise that you don’t intend to keep to, as the spoken word is deemed important in Vietnam. In Russia, you shouldn’t smile too much during meetings, as you’ll be seen as not taking matters seriously enough.
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