To say that today’s business environment is becoming increasingly more global is to state the obvious. Meetings, phone calls and conferences are held all over the world and attendees can come from any point on the globe. On any given business day you can find yourself dealing face-to-face, over the phone, by e-mail and, on rare occasions, by postal letter with people whose customs and cultures differ your own. You may never have to leave home to interact on an international level.
While the old adage “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” still holds true, business clients and colleagues who are visiting this country should be treated with sensitivity and with an awareness of their unique culture. Not to do your homework and put your best international foot forward can cost you relationships and future business. One small misstep such as using first names inappropriately, not observing the rules of timing or sending the wrong color flower in the welcome bouquet can be costly.
There is no one set of rules that applies to all international visitors so do the research for each country. That may sound like a daunting task, but taken in small steps, it is manageable and the rewards are worth the effort. Here are a few tips for minding your global P’s and Q’s.
Building relationships: Take time to get to know your international friends and build rapport before you rush to the bottom line.
Dressing conservatively: Your choice of attire is a signal of your respect for the other person. Leave your too trendy clothes in the closet on the days that you meet with your foreign guests.
Observe the hierarchy: Meeting a group in a foreign country? It is not always a simple matter to know who is the highest-ranking member when you are dealing with a group. To avoid embarrassment, err on the side of age and masculine gender, only if you are unable to discover the protocol with research.
Understanding the handshake: With a few exceptions, people around the world use the handshake for meeting and greeting. Some cultures have style handshake with that is a firm grip, two quick pumps, eye contact and a smile. But this might not be Universal. Variations in handshakes are based on cultural differences, not on personality or values.
Using titles and correct forms of address: Approach first names with caution when dealing with people from other cultures. Use titles and last names until you have been invited to use the person’s first name. In some cases, this may never occur. Use of first names is reserved for family and close friends in some cultures.
Valuing time. Not everyone in the world is time conscious. Don’t take it personally if someone from a more relaxed culture keeps you waiting or spends more of that commodity than you normally would in meetings or over meals. Stick to the rules of punctuality, but be understanding when your contact from another country seems unconcerned.
Honoring space issues: If the international visitor seems to want to be close, accept it. Backing away can send the wrong message. So can touching. You shouldn’t risk violating someone else’s space by touching them in any way other than with a handshake.
Whether the world comes to you or you go out to it, the greatest compliment you can pay your international visitors is to learn about their country and their customs. Understand differences in behavior and honor them with your actions. Don’t take offense when visitors behave according to their norms. People from other cultures will appreciate your efforts to accommodate them and you will find yourself building your international clientele.