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Etiquette and Protocol in Business Relations around the World

By: Stephan Smith | Date: 11 April 2014

Etiquette and Protocol in Business Relations around the World


Business etiquette and protocol are very important for creating a successful business communication. However, when you have to work with foreign companies you should keep in mind that what is accepted in your country may be unacceptable somewhere else in the world. Generally, adhere to the maxim: "When in Rome, do as the Romans do".  This article will be your helpful guidance in this direction.


Make a research

It is extremely important and even obligatory to explore well the specifics of business relations in the  country, whichever it is. This will surely spare you some embarrassment in awkward situations that could impact the success of your business.


Deal with fatigue

Do not let fatigue from the journey have the word. If possible, try to arrive in the country a few days earlier in order to have time to rest and adjust to the hour difference. Drink plenty of water and limit your consumption of coffee and alcohol, as dehydration will enhance the feeling of fatigue. Try not to overwork before the trip that will tire you anyway. Another trick to which you could resort is to set your watch to the new time zone a few days before your departure.


Merge with the crowd

When you arrive, try not to look conspicuous. Dress like people in the foreign country and try to act like them. Learn some key words and phrases: they will certainly come in handy, and besides, you would make a good impression.


Show respect

Even if you do not have a good opinion of the country you are visiting, do not show in any way. Be respectful and do not act in a condescending way.


Keep up to the hierarchy

Check whether the hierarchy in the country is based on age, gender, etc., in order to avoid embarrassing situations. Now is the time to point out that we must be careful how we address a certain person. Be cautious with the use of first names. Americans love to break the formal atmosphere, but it is far safer to bet on Mr/Mrs and their surname. Stick to this formula until you have been explicitly asked to switch first names, which in some cultures may well not happen at all. In terms of titles, they may have an exceptional weight, so do not underestimate them. Germany, for example,  is  one of the countries where you have to include "professor" , "engineer" , etc. in address . Listen carefully how someone has been presented to you and pay attention to the business cards. On the other hand, people in Australia judge on the work done and do not get particularly impressed by titles.


Pay attention to gender roles

Be careful if you are traveling to a country where religion plays a vital role in the relations between men and women. For example, in the Arab countries you must shake hands with your business partners, but touching a woman, no matter if she is European or not, is considered a taboo. In Argentina, the woman should be the first to reach out to the man.


Master the rules for exchanging business cards

Remember a few important rules that the etiquette in exchanging business cards imposes:  the card must be in an excellent condition and you are expected to hand it personally to your interlocutor. In Arab countries never pass it with your left hand, and if you're in Singapore, Japan or China, give and take business cards with your both hands. Do not forget to take yours out of a business card holder only. Wait to be introduced to someone and only then give them your business card. When you receive business cards, it’s not bad to mention how good  they are, then put them in the business card holder. Do not leave them casually anywhere, because it is a sign of disrespect.


Do not go into the personal space of others

The personal space is a loose term: for example, Americans would feel uncomfortable if you stand too close to them, but shortening the distance may be quite normal in other parts of the world. Try not to go into the personal space of people you communicate with and for this purpose, check what is typical for the country. If others enter your personal space, do not step back, even if you feel uncomfortable because you would send a wrong message to your interlocutor.


Plan your time

Undoubtedly, time is money , but if you communicate with representatives of nations that have a more relaxed behavior in busy situations, do not take it personally, if the business meeting or lunch prolong more than in your home country, or if you have been kept waiting. Try to be strict, but be also understanding to the habits of foreigners.


Do not undermine the handshake

Bear in mind that the etiquette in handshakes around the world vary. For example, Latin America is characterized by gentle and continuous handshaking, Russia – with firm handshaking. Remember that the handshake may be accompanied by a hug, a kiss or a bow, depending on where in the world you are situated.


Be careful with the gifts

Be careful when you give gifts with your company's logo. Do it if the logo is discreet and in countries such as Portugal, Spain and Greece forget about such gifts. Note that in some places (e.g. in Africa) it is accepted that the gift should be opened as soon as you get it, but in other countries such as China it is considered rude to open a gift in front of the one who gave it to you.

After everything mentioned here, it is clear that traditions in different countries inevitably impact business etiquette in  business relations, that’s why always bear in mind where the person you have to communicate with comes from.

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