Business travel etiquette while in other countries isn’t as straight forward as one might think.
A staggering number of business professionals hit the roads and fly the friendly skies for business purposes each year. Business travel made a global economic contribution of 1.11 trillion U.S. dollars in 2015. And business travel is expected to increase in the coming years.
While many business owners understand the value of face-to-face meetings, those same meetings can have a negative impact if proper business etiquette isn’t observed in another country.
When it comes to striking global deals, launching offices on another continent or simply courting potential customers miles away, “When in Rome, do as the Roman’s do.”
Here’s a look at basic business travel etiquette for seven of the most economically powerful countries in the world. Their power rankings are based on the strength of national economies via economic output in real terms.
China’s strong manufacturing output over the last two decades has created the largest single economy in the world. Although the Chinese economy has slowed in recent months, it is still the world’s powerhouse whose only close competitor is the United States.
When travelling in China for business, one should remember that the Chinese culture is very formal and serious. For example, being late for an appointment is unacceptable; tardiness could kill a deal that was otherwise virtually guaranteed.
Also, offering a slight bow of respect during introductions and handing out business cards is expected. Lastly, do not expect Chinese business owners to make quick decisions. They prefer to think things over.
2. United States
The economy of the United States is second to China only when you remove the strength of the dollar against international currencies from the equation. Otherwise, American GDP makes their economy the strongest in the world.
Business etiquette in America is governed more by region than any national standard. For example, business travellers should always dress formally in major cities such as New York and Los Angeles; they can get away without wearing a tie or suit coat in more rural settings.
During a meeting, be prepared to offer a firm handshake and look colleagues directly in the eye. In addition, avoid giving gifts, as these are often viewed as bribes or solicitations in America. Also be sure to smile and be willing to talk business over a meal.
India has taken over the number three position in terms of economic output. In early 2016, India overtook China as the world’s fastest expanding economy.
The initial greeting in India can consist of either a firm handshake or the traditional namaste. The more traditional greeting tells your colleagues that you have taken the time to learn something about Indian culture.
Those who choose a handshake should understand that men never shake hands with women. In India, you must also remember to be punctual, be patient, always accept the customary drink of black tea, and don’t be too direct in your approach. The Indian culture is a lot more nuanced than you might be used to in the U.S. or China.
However, someone new to Japan might be surprised by how they do things. For example, the Japanese prefer silence over unnecessary verbal communications. If you have nothing productive to say during a business meeting, say nothing at all.
Also, the Japanese value consensus and agreement. They value the team more than the individual in nearly every aspect of life. Finally, accept business cards with both hands, be sure to read them quickly, and then place them on the desk or table in front of you until the meeting is over. It is considered an insult to immediately put a business card in a pocket or wallet upon receiving it.
In European economies, Germany is considered one of the powerhouses along with the UK and France. When conducting business in Germany, be very cognizant of the fact that Germans are still sensitive about some aspects of their history.
Germans are master planners, so be prepared to have your entire itinerary planned out for you before you arrive. Be ready to apply that same level of planning to any business deals you hope to seal.
German society is one of structure and rules, so your business deals will be subject to them as well. So keep your promises, don’t abruptly change your plans, and be up front about everything.
Despite a severe contraction of their economy due to falling energy prices, Russians are still proud to have the sixth most powerful economy in the world. They welcome international business partners as long as you play by their rules.
The first thing business travelers learn in Russia is that formality and titles are crucial. Titles determine status and, in many cases, delineate certain accomplishments. If you use the wrong title, you can expect to be reprimanded.
Second, Russian business still has not managed to reconcile old era communism and modern perestroika. Therefore, doing business in Russia involves navigating multiple layers of bureaucracy.
Finally, Russians establish a clear delineation between work and leisure. At work, they will keep their minds focused on business even though you might want to take a few minutes to talk about all the marvels of the Caribbean you experienced last month. After work they don’t want to even think about business.
Brazil’s economy is the seventh largest in the world despite suffering the same kind of contraction with the fall in oil prices. Brazilians are very proud of their economic output and their dominance of South America.
Business etiquette in Brazil is all about good form. It starts with a firm handshake between men and friendly kisses on the cheek between women. A man may shake a woman’s hand but only if she extends her hand first.
Business talks are expected to get under way after a limited amount of socializing. Dropping in unexpectedly is decidedly bad form in Brazil. So is talking about politics or anything having to do with Argentina (it’s a complex relationship).
Business meetings should be scheduled at least several weeks in advance and confirmed within two days of the meeting date. Furthermore, avoid scheduling meetings before 10am or between the hours of noon and 3pm.
This article has been edited.