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International Business Etiquette: the dos and don’ts of doing business

Are you wondering why your Turkish contact arrived half an hour late to a company meeting? Do you have a left-handed colleague who was sent by the company to negotiate with an Arab business partner, resulting in disaster?

It’s likely that you broke the sacred laws of international business etiquette. Doing business doesn’t leave much room for ignorance, so it is best to make sure you’re prepared for international meetings and, above all, equipped with an interpreter who knows the rules of the game.

What is Business Etiquette?

business etiquette

Business etiquette is essentially a set of unwritten rules that regulate meetings and working relationships and that tend to differ depending on the country you’re in. Businesspeople who attend meetings with international partners on a daily basis can’t really afford to ignore this unspoken set of rules.

Here are some of the international rules we recommend following in order to be a successful businessperson, and to avoid messing up important meetings before you even sit down at the table.

Business Etiquette: too early or too late?

In Italy, we have a complicated relationship with punctuality. Generally speaking, in the business world, it’s considered polite to arrive five minutes before a meeting is due to commence in order to prepare and settle in so that the meeting can get underway bang on time. However, this rule doesn’t apply to all regions of Italy, in fact, the further away from Milan you travel, and the closer to Palermo you get, the laxer the rules seems to be.

The five-minute rule applies well to meetings with Germans, Canadians, Americans, Russians and the Japanese. However, things change radically when it comes to Turkish, South American, Portuguese and Spanish business partners, who may consider arriving in advance of a meeting to be a bit rude.

The left-handed rule in Arab countries

In most Western countries, businesspeople tend to greet each other with a brief but firm handshake, and if you’re greeting someone from Russia, you must do so while making eye contact with them.

The problem arises when you have to greet partners or colleagues from the United Arab Emirates, who never use their left hand. It is a deeply rooted habit in Middle Eastern culture, since the left hand tends to be used for hygiene purposes and therefore, out of both hygiene and respect, it is not traditionally used to perform other activities, especially when it comes to greeting strangers.

It’s therefore considered a generous and kind act to avoid using your left hand when greeting colleagues, as well as passing or using documents and objects. Of course, a left-handed person may not be at all prepared for this eventuality and should pay close attention.

Straight to the point or not?

When it comes to Italian office etiquette, there is one fundamental rule: a business meeting does not necessarily have to end with a concrete result. For Italians, in fact, meetings are primarily aimed at getting to know each other and establishing a relationship built on trust. Agreements can be sent back at leisure on a date to be confirmed and it is not even strictly necessary to follow the meeting’s agenda. The Spanish are as relaxed as the Italians, as are Turks and Arabs.

However, not all businesspeople think the same way: The Japanese, Chinese and German, for example, as well as Americans and Canadians, hate wasting time on pleasantries and like to get straight to the point of the meeting to achieve the expected result in the shortest possible time.

The challenge of interpreting

An interpreter acts as a key figure during trade negotiations and international diplomatic meetings. He or she must be able to act as a cultural and linguistic mediator by setting a good example for customers and providing a model of behaviour to follow in order to avoid making gross errors.

That’s why it’s important to rely on truly qualified professionals: if you need help at an international meeting, Eurotrad’s interpreters are ready to lend a helping hand.

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