If you’re working abroad, do you need to adapt your business style to increase your success in an international career?
You’ve secured your dream job in an exciting location abroad, you’ve got a fantastic new home, you’re making new friends, seeing the sights and settling in well, and have started working abroad in your new international career. What could possibly go wrong?
As multinational, multicultural and multilingual organisations continue to expand with employees from all over the globe living and working in different cultures to their own, opportunities to commit social faux pas are rife!
It’s no longer enough to say, “When in Rome … do as the Romans do”. Chances are the people you work with aren’t actually from the country you’re living in so all the normal rules of local culture might not apply.
In some cultures, such as Australia, Germany and China, it’s considered rude to keep someone waiting for a business meeting.
But in other countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, France, Spain and Russia, punctuality is not considered a virtue and is often treated casually, so you may be kept waiting before or during your meeting.
In these circumstances it is advisable to be patient. Take the time to chat and establish good working relationships.
Don’t be put off if your meeting is interrupted by other guests or telephone conversations either, this is often the normal practice and may be a test of your patience!
Gift giving is an area which often causes confusion and can cause great offence if the traditions of the country or culture are not adhered to.
In many cultures gifts are given to celebrate finalising a negotiation, a contract or a project. Gifts for the office, such as a nice bottle of wine or liquor are appropriate.
In other cultures gift giving might be seen as a bribe and could result in legal action being taken as companies in some countries aren’t permitted to accept gifts.
In Africa and Australia gift giving is not the norm. However, in Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines, exchanging gifts is strongly rooted in tradition. Part of the tradition is the gracious style used to present and receive them.
Even more confusing is how you accept a gift. It’s very important in Asia and the Middle East to only use your right hand, or both hands, to offer or accept a gift. In Japan and Hong Kong, you should use both hands.
In Singapore a recipient may “graciously refuse three times” before accepting your gift. But in Chile, gifts are accepted and opened immediately.
It’s also important to take into account religious traditions, for example, wine or some meat products might not be acceptable gifts to give someone who is from a Jewish or Muslim country.
Business lunches and dinners
In some countries business is regularly conducted over lunch or dinner. For example, hospitality is a way of life in the Arab world and business is frequently conducted over lunch or dinner — more than likely in a lavish hotel or restaurant. It is also considered polite to return the invitation.
Be careful about your eating habits though while conducting business meetings over a meal. In some countries, such as New Zealand, it is considered bad manners to discuss business during the meal; this should be conducted before or after the meal.
While most cultures, such as the UK, France and New Zealand consider a conservative business dress code appropriate, others, such as Bermuda, have a more relaxed informal approach.
In other countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, visitors are expected to abide by local standards of modesty. However, they are not expected to adopt native clothing. Traditional clothes on foreigners may be considered offensive.
Australians are generally friendly and open, but directness and brevity are valued when communicating, whereas Germans like to take their time and consider their options in great detail. However, once the planning is over, a project will move very quickly and deadlines are expected to be honored.
Different cultures have different ways to greet business associates which may seem a little confusing or alien to you. For example, in China you might be greeted with a round of applause! You are expected to return the applause out of respect.
Also consider eye contact when shaking hands. In New Zealand you should maintain eye contact throughout the handshake, while in France the eye contact should be brief.
Handshakes are often accompanied with a slight bow or nod of the head in some cultures, for example, China, Germany and Japan. It is important to return this bow or nod as a mark of respect.
Be careful about making jokes that might be seen as inappropriate unless you’re absolutely sure it will be well received and will lighten the mood.
Global community advantages
Many expats agree that there are immense benefits of living and working in a global community for their business relationships and their careers.
But there’s also lot to learn and take into account when conducting business on a global platform.
It can often be a minefield of social faux pas but the benefits and advantages to your business relationships and your career far outweigh the disadvantages.