International Business Etiquette: Presenting Yourself Right Overseas

internationalbusinessetiquetteIt can be tough going to a foreign country and not being familiar with the mannerisms and proper methods of communication.  Imagine going overseas looking to seal a large-scale deal with one of your company’s most important business partners in China.  When you meet your partner, you hand him your business card with your right hand while you left hand is resting on your hip.  Unfortunately, this is a no-no in most Asian countries (although you meant no harm!).  Business cards are expected to be presented and received with both hands.  Whoops!  If you would have reviewed proper international business, you would have known.  If you plan on doing international business, the way that you present yourself and engage with your clients or business partners is just as important as what you have to offer them.  Before you start handing out your business cards incorrectly, we are going to give you some tips for the proper international business etiquette in a few countries from each region.

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Asia (China)

It is said that China will pass up the United States to dominate the business travel market within the next 2 to 3 years.  With all the business going on in China, we are going to show you how to conduct yourself in the correct way.  Here are some helpful tips:

  • We you greet your business partners, bowing or nodding is an acceptable form of greeting.  Do not offer a handshake unless you are offered one first.
  • Always use formal titles when you are speaking with someone in business, no matter if they are around the same age or younger than you.
  • This should be a given, but always make sure that you are on time when you are in China.  It is a common courtesy.
  • If you need to meet someone to do business, it is essential that you set up an appointment first.  Do not just show up and expect to be received warmly.
  • Do not show up to a meeting unprepared.  Be sure to bring several copies of your documents in case there are multiple people.
  • Chinese people often wait for “lucky days” on the calendar or lucky astrological times to make their decisions — be prepared to wait.  Generally, the decision process will be slow.
  • Present and receive a business card with both of your hands.
  • Keep your business cards in a small card case instead of in your pocket or in your wallet.
  • If you are traveling in a group, have the most important person, or the highest ranking individual conduct meetings, as status is valued in China.
  • When a meeting is over, allow the Chinese to exit the meeting first.

Latin America (Chile)

In Latin American countries, it is important to keep in mind that the culture is predominantly patriarchal and predominately Catholic.  Let’s take a look at some of the business etiquette that you can expect in Chile, for instance.

  • In business etiquette a handshake is common.  However, you may see some business partners greeting each other with hugs.  Women will tend to kiss each other on both sides of their cheeks.
  • In Latin American countries, a person’s title is very important.  When you address someone verbally, you will use solely their title.  For example: Doctor, Profesor, Abogado (lawyer), or Ingeniero (engineer).  If someone does not have a professional title, they will go by either: Senor (Mr.), Senora (Mrs.), or Senorita (Miss.)
  • For friendly conversation, here are some topics that are safe to cover: one’s family, children, history, or Easter Island.
  • On the other hand, you might want to stay away from these topics: human rights, politics, or the grape export scare.

The Middle East (India)

internationalbusinessetiquetteIf you happen to travel to the Middle East for any International Business, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • You will find that a lot of different languages are spoken in the Middle East (14 major and 300 minor).  In India, English and Hindi are the most commonly used languages in business and politics.
  • Try not to ever use the word “no” in India during business.  This is considered harsh.  Instead, aim for other ways to turn down or refuse a situation, such as “I will try” or “I will see.”
  • On the other hand, do not say “Thank You” to anyone who gives you a meal or pays for your meal.  This is considered insulting to their gesture.
  • As always, use professional titles when addressing people in the Business world.

North America (The United States)

If you are from outside of the US and are looking to do business with someone in the States, take note of these proper Business communication etiquette forms.

  • Always use a handshake when greeting or leaving someone that you are doing business with.  Remember: the firmer the better!
  • Always use eye contact.  This will make you appear confident and sincere in your words– something that is valued in the US.
  • Address someone by their title, followed by their full name.  For example, Mr. George Tinnley.
  • Business cards can either be exchanged when you are meeting or leaving.
  • Remember to smile — it will make you appear relaxed, cool, and calm.
  • If you want to smoke, always ask permission first.  Or, ask to be directed to a smoking area.

South Pacific (Australia)

Going to the land of down under?  Here is what you should know:

  • English is the primary language in Australia.
  • Offer a handshake both while meeting and leaving your Business meeting.
  • If you are opinionated, feel free to express yourself (in a direct way!).  Opinions are respected and viewed as entertaining in Australia.
  • Do not talk-up your business or yourself.  Being humble is also important — let your success show in your actions.

United Kingdom (Great Britain)

If you are on your way to the United Kingdom, be prepared for some delicious tea, scones, and remember to put these forms of etiquette into play:

  • Avoid speaking too loud and engaging in any disruptive behavior.
  • Be sure to never gesture with your palm facing yourself.  This is known as a “V for Victory” and is taken offensively.
  • Do not rush your English business partners into making a decision quickly.
  • Unlike the US, eye contact is typically not kept during conversation.
  • Do not ask any personal questions, and make note of personal space.  Offer handshakes in business, but do not touch others in public.

Doing Etiquette Right!

There are plenty of other countries that have their own forms of business etiquette, and we have only covered some.  Be sure to check out for any further success in Global Business or with international business etiquette, and you will be a pleasant surprise to any business partners you have overseas!