From time to time during my business coaching engagements I come across rather unusual problems being encountered by small business owners.
Here is a case in point. It can be daunting to travel to a country that has a very different culture from our own, let alone feel the additional pressure that comes with it of doing business without insulting your international business partners or causing an international incident!
It’s probably a very good thing that for all of us, the most basic of business etiquette, no matter where in the world you are, is based on concepts rooted in good old-fashioned common sense.
So it’s really good news for those of you wanting to increase your presence in other countries that you can follow some relatively simple rules to ensure that you avoid faux pas and social landmines which may lead to business relationships going sour no matter where you happen to be.
Show respect - Everywhere in the world this is held in high-regard. You do not have to agree with everybody at the table but you really should show respect.
Do the necessary preparation before you go to learn about the various customs and traditions to be expected from your host. Not only will they be impressed it’s a very good way of showing the attention to detail that they can expect from transacting business with you.
Find the middle ground - It doesn’t always have to be a win or lose situation. And remember to be yourself rather than someone you are not. You are there to reflect your business’ values and your words and actions will be regarded as a sample of what it will be like to work with you.
Brush up on your geography. It's not the time or place to demonstrate your ignorance of where you are in the world!
Slow down! We tend to rattle off at a fair old pace when we speak naturally. Unfortunately, there is a tendency to speak even faster when we are nervous or in unfamiliar settings. Things can be hard enough as it is with our normal speaking patterns. Slang and cadence make it even harder for people of other nationalities to follow us. Be wary of this, use your breathing exercises and clearly enunciate. But be careful not to sound condescending. Sometimes it can be a delicate balance.
Know the appropriate greetings. You know what they say about first impressions. Know what is customary so you can avoid a potentially embarrassing situation. In your preparatory work make sure you find out the best way to address the people you are likely to meet.
Over-gesticulate with your hands. This can be a deal breaker - Hand gestures can be interpreted differently in various cultures and what you may have thought was a flippant staccato to underscore your statement could have the rather unforeseen consequence of seriously insulting someone.
Touch. Getting physical can often be the most sensitive of the etiquette no-no’s. In every country how, where and how often you can touch someone can vary hugely. It is often best to just avoid it altogether. Even how close you are standing to them can matter a great deal.
Get too personal. We Westerners can be very candid and conversation about our personal lives can be regarded as expected chitchat in our own surroundings. Unfortunately, this is not always the case in other countries so it’s best to be safe and steer clear of getting into deep by sticking to business with a professional demeanour.
Discuss politics or religion. I really don’t think I need to explain this one. But, from experience, I know I definitely have to mention it.
Forget your humble attitude. While being seen to be confident is important here, many other places prefer a humble and more down-to-earth approach when it comes to business.
If you are leaving for foreign shores the best investment you could make is to do some research. Being aware of what you are likely to face and being confident that you will remain respectful is really important.
Mike Reddy is a Chartered Accountant, business coach and advisor helping businesses in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Gold Coast to easily increase their profits and cash flow. He is currently President of the North Sydney Chamber of Commerce, a Regional Councillor for Sydney North East and a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants Sydney leadership team. As well as advising businesses, Mike presents business development seminars and webinars and is regularly contacted by the media to comment on small business matters. You can connect with him on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.