When dealing with business partners from abroad, we can often be taken aback by their unique customs and habits. Just as anything in business, these odd mannerisms are a two way street, meaning your own behavior can be scrutinized if it flies in the face of someone else’s cultural values. So, to avoid embarrassment and committing major faux pas when dealing with those abroad, consider the following etiquette suggestions by country.
Canadian customs are a strikingly similar to most Americans, owing to our shared continent and European backgrounds. However, just because we can feel familiar with Canadians and comfortable with the fact that they are generally friendlier does not mean that they want to hear the same punchlines bandied about since the ‘70s.
This means you need to avoid making jokes about stereotypes Americans hold regarding Canadians, lest you tempt your colleague to rattle off some stereotypes about you. Stereotypes are never funny in the business world, no matter how light-hearted you might think they are, and attempting to joke about them will sour overall impressions.
Brazilians are used to close contact with one another, and may often use physical touching during conversations to establish connections between colleagues. Embracing this closeness can improve relationships, but backing off can make you appear prudish, perhaps even untrustworthy.
In phone conversations, Brazilians maintain this affability, making conversations lengthy and enthusiastic, along with many false-start goodbyes that launch into new topics. Remain patient with these conversations, and never avoid a phone call entirely. Brazilians rarely let calls go to voicemail, and will often excuse themselves from meetings to answer them.
United Kingdom and Ireland
Brits tend to be more formal than their American counterparts despite (mostly) sharing a common language. Undivided attention is the norm, including during phone calls.
Interruptions are greatly discouraged, as is speaking too directly about sensitive topics. Do not be surprised if roundabout British phrasing has you wishing you had Spark Notes to capture the gist.
In Ireland, things are slightly more relaxed, but people often deal on a first-name basis unlike their surname-only English counterparts.
Like Brazilians, French people often meander on the phone, hence the post title cautioning against abrupt hangups. French people are much more cautious about their cell phone use, though, so do not be surprised to hear someone talking in hushed tones during business hours.
Another important point, the French typically prefer soft, friendly handshakes compared to us vice-grip Americans.
Like Brits, Chinese business people may avoid stating a blunt point. What they are not shy about, though, is getting their phone calls answered. Most people answer upon the first call in China because otherwise many more calls — sometimes up to 10! — may follow.
Also, Chinese custom dictates that senior executives exchange gifts during a meeting. A Chinese business person may refuse this gift up to three times out of politeness, but you should keep insisting.
Other Interesting International Business Etiquette Tips & Tidbits
- Never use your left hand to shake hands, pass documents, eat or conduct important tasks in Arab-speaking countries like UAE, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia; it’s considered unhygienic
- Most Israelis honor the Jewish Sabbath, meaning the work week goes from Sunday to Thursday. Do not attempt to conduct business on Friday or Saturday; religious law dictates that no work can be done.
- Brush up on your singing skills if dining with South Koreans; you will likely be asked to perform a solo karaoke number after the meal!
- Russians consider excess smiling and niceness a sign of insincerity; they also tend to be quick on the phone, so be direct and to the point.
- Japanese treat the exchange of business cards with great gravity; always give and receive cards with two hands while facing forward and after exchanging bows
- Indian cell phone owners may give a quick call then hang up as a sign for you to call them back
You can learn more interesting facts like these while training yourself and your team for success abroad using demonstrations, presentations and business coaching courtesy of 2Win!