According to an old Japanese saying, "the protruding nail gets hammered down." If you've ever committed a major faux pas in an international business meeting, you'll appreciate this statement! In today's increasingly global business environment, it pays to be aware of the international rules of etiquette. When you enter into a relationship with a foreign company you conduct extensive research around foreign operating standards, economic conditions, political environment, etc. But it's easy to overlook the traditions, customs and etiquette of the host nation. Of course it's important to focus on business aspects, but it's just as important to know when to hand out business cards, when to accept a gift, and what to order at dinner. So the next time your business takes you onto foreign soil, check out some of the following resources beforehand. They're guaranteed to save you from some embarrassing moments, and they just might help you close the deal!

Habits from Home
One of the trickiest things about working with foreign counterparts is the risk that small, everyday gestures could be wildly misinterpreted. For example, nodding your head up and down in North America signifies your agreement with a person. But in Bulgaria, the same action would tell the person you're meeting with that you're disagreeing with them! Physical gestures play an important role when meeting in a foreign country. Visit the Web of Culture to find out about the appropriate (and inappropriate) gestures of the nation you're visiting. 

Cultural Conventions
What to wear, which title to use, how to negotiate and whether or not to bring a gift are just some of the quandaries business travelers face. For example, Thailand, it's customary to exchange gifts during your second business meeting. In China, however, gift giving is considered a form of bribery and is actually illegal! 

In North America, it's common to call business colleagues by their first names, but this would be inappropriate in Japan. Japanese acquaintances should always be addressed by their title or by their last name with the prefix san. However, the prefix san should not be used for a child, spouse or an absent colleague.

Visiting a foreign culture can be bewildering for even the most intrepid business traveler. A great resource that covers all of the essentials of conducting business globally is www.executiveplanet.com. Simply select your destination country and you'll receive an overview of cultural do's and taboos, appropriate corporate etiquette and handy hints on conducting business in specific areas of the world.

Virtual Venues
And don't think you can ignore foreign etiquette if you're meeting over the Internet! Virtual meetings still need to reflect the customs and traditions of the individuals you're meeting with so many of the same rules apply. Virtual meetings also have the added difficulty of not physically being with the people you're meeting. A misinterpreted sentence could lead to a major misunderstanding with no chance for rebuttal. To learn more about the proper "netiquette" you should follow when having virtual meetings, visit bspage.com/1netiq/Netiq.html.

The safest practice when working abroad is to do your best to "act local". By following this mantra you can be confident that your overseas meetings will be successful and yours hosts will appreciate your cultural sensitivity and will.

 


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