When you visit another country, you need to be aware of their culture and the behaviour that is expected. There are so many pitfalls to negotiate and it’s easy to offend your business connections by simply being unaware of a cultural taboo.
For instance, did you know that it is bad manners to have the sole of your foot facing someone in a meeting in most Arab cultures? For westerners who are comfortable sitting with legs crossed it’s very easy to do that unwittingly. It gets harder when you’re offered a cushion on the floor instead of a more normal height chair. Learning the art of gracefully sinking to floor level and then getting up again without the sole of your foot facing your host is worth practising before you travel!
When you present a business card to a Japanese businessman you can expect him to receive it with both hands and take time to look at it. If you don’t do the same when presented with his card, you could be seen as rude.
The card represents part of the Japanese identity as a business person and to say ‘thanks’ and push it into a folder or a pocket, basically says ‘you’re not important’. It’s wise to treat it with as much respect as the person who presented it to you.
Doing business in Scandinavia is a much more casual environment. Equality rules, people expect you to meet them on a much more informal level. In Japan, everyone has a boss as organisations are predominantly hierarchical. In Norway structures are flatter and far more team oriented.
Quite apart from language difficulties if you don’t speak the native language of your hosts, there is much more to communication. Some overseas travellers have found their hosts to be curt and direct to the point of rudeness, others wonder if their hosts will ever get to the point as they go through a communication dance of politenesses that go on … and on and on.
This is simply because they have different communication styles. Imagine if interrupting a speaker was considered to be rude, what impression might you make if you jump in with a comment?
What will your host think of you if their style is direct and to the point and you go all around the houses to make your case?
It’s wise to learn a little of your host country’s communication style so you don’t offend a potential customer or supplier.
Are you one of those people who turns up 10 minutes early for every appointment and gets impatient with latecomers?
Or are you fairly laid-back about appointments and as long as everyone turns up eventually, you’re happy?
Whole cultures have an approach to time management. On a visit to Libya a long-term expat once explained that ‘bukra’ (tomorrow, literally) meant ‘sometime between now and when you leave the country’, and ‘bad bukra’ (after tomorrow) meant ‘probably never’! However, a German businessman will expect you to turn up on time and ready for action.
As a visitor to their country the best bet is to arrive on time, but not to expect everyone else to do so.
If someone says ‘let’s meet tomorrow at nine’, always check if they mean morning or evening. Some countries do business well into the evening or very early in the morning.
Do your homework before visiting any country where you want to do business, know what to expect, how to communicate, how to respect their culture and you’ll come back with a full order book.
And if you really want to impress them provide your company information in their language – just give us a call on +44 1234 271555.