Going on international business trips is a thrill that keeps you striving for similar opportunities for years to come. That being said, as fun as these trips are, it’s extremely important to take the etiquette behind these events seriously. The nuances of international business etiquette can be confusing for many, but it is worth the effort to learn them because otherwise, it may spell disaster. If you travel to many different countries for business, it can be especially confusing. What is acceptable in London is not going to be the same as in Seoul, for example. This makes it very important to put some time into researching the customs of your destination. However, as a general rule, here are six areas where you should focus your attention when it comes to etiquette during international business meetings.
Introductions are Important
In the West, often times, the actual issue that is being discussed is the most important part of the meeting. However, this is not the case for all cultures. In many cultures, the relationship between professionals is more important than the issue at hand. Make sure that you prioritize the relationship with the person you are meeting. Learn their name and their title before you meet them and they will know you are taking them seriously.
Don’t Dismiss Business Cards
This is particularly important if you are doing business in Asia. In these countries, the business card is symbolic of the person themselves. In Japan, business cards are presented with both hands. Upon receiving a business card there, it’s important that you read it right then and there to show the person that you respect them. The added bonus here is that it helps you connect a name to a face so you remember them and their title.
The standards for being on time will vary from culture to culture. While in Germany, it is imperative that you are punctual because meetings start exactly on time, in some Latin American cultures, it’s typical for meetings to start late. Wherever you are around the globe, you don’t want to inadvertently offend your international colleague by getting it wrong. The best strategy is to be on time, regardless of where you are. It’s better to make sure you are respecting their time, and should the meeting start late, you can always write up an email or some other task while you wait. In addition, make sure to always double check start times. While you might be used to meeting for dinner at 7 p.m., in Spain, dinner isn’t usually till 10. Always confirm the time and not make assumptions based on what you’re used to.
Don’t Rush Out the Door
Americans like to stay busy, so it’s not unusual for someone to leave a conference or some other event a little early. If you’re feeling jet lagged, you might want to duck out early so you can catch some shut-eye. However, in many cultures, departing early can be a sign of disrespect, particularly in Asia. While you don’t necessarily have to stay until the bitter end, it’s best not to be the first one to leave an event, as this could mean the end of that business relationship.
Bring a Gift
Bringing a gift is a sign of respect. They may not expect a gift, but it will still show courtesy to your host. This is an important element to keep in mind especially when you are visiting Asian cultures, but this gesture doesn’t have to be limited to those countries. Whether you’re in Europe or the Middle East, your host will surely be honored to receive a gift from you.
Socialize with Your Host
In many cultures, particularly in Latin America and Asia, the business relationship is formed outside of the office. Socializing establishes trust between business colleagues and builds comradery. You should expect to at least have dinner with your hosts, but you will probably also need to participate in other social activities. This might be going out to clubs and bars after dinner, or it could be hitting the golf course. Regardless, you are expected to participate so that your colleagues can determine whether or not you can be trusted.
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