Doing Business Abroad: What Is Socially Acceptable?
By Audrey Févry, Commercial Services Manager at Sage
With the announcement from IBEC’s Fergal O’Brien today that the position of the Euro will play in the favour of exporters and deliver 1% growth, the focus is once again on cross-border business activities. (Ibec: Weak euro will deliver 1% growth | Irish Examiner)
But while doing business abroad can look like a great strategy on paper, it can only be successful if you are familiar with the culture of your chosen country.
Being a non-national in Ireland, I was surprised initially to notice the first name basis used in Irish organisations, from entry level positions to executives and CEO.
My little professional experience in France had taught me that hierarchy is important and that titles must be used. Entering a culture and organisation, which operates an open door policy and a first name basis took a little bit of getting used to.
While this is a small cultural difference, in a business environment, the level of knowledge of a culture may make or break international partnerships.
1. Don’t under-estimate the power of first impression
Following the custom of your home country when meeting foreign partners for the first time may appear disrespectful and untrustworthy.
- While handshakes are the most used form of greetings around the world, in Japan bowing is generally used, with the degree of the bow depending on the social status of the interlocutor.
- Business card exchange is a formal affair in China where the card must be presented with both hands, Chinese wording face up and thoroughly read and acknowledged before being put away.
- Strong eye contact is a mark of trust in Saudi Arabia, while no eye contact is a mark of respect in most Asian cultures
2. Know the communication style of your interlocutors
From the discussion topics in the initial meetings to the follow up interactions; you must be familiar with the communication style operated in your chosen country.
- In the Middle East culture, a verbal agreement has more weight than a written contract and failure to deliver on your word will directly impact on your honour.
In India, the usage of the word “No” is deemed rude as may be offensive to the receiving party. Answers appearing non-committal to us such as “possibly”, “perhaps”, “potentially” are most likely a way of saying no.
- In Brazil, the success of a partnership is based on personal interaction, trust and ability to complete the work. You must spend time to interact on a personal level with your interlocutor. Discussing business straight away is deemed aggressive.
3. Be aware of the dress code
From the climate difference to the religious and conservative aspect of the culture, you must be familiar with the dress code that is acceptable in your chosen country.
- In China, women are expected to wear flat or low heeled shoes. Dark colours and conservative suits and dresses should be favoured to bright colours outfits.
- In Saudi Arabia, women should ensure that their clothing covers the knees and collarbone area as well as not being tightly fitted.
- In South Africa, while the dress code is becoming more informal, it is still recommended to dress conservatively in dark business suits.
4. Ensure this culture awareness is nurtured throughout your partnership
Culture awareness should not stop at the signature of the contract. Marketing campaigns hitting the mark in the country of origin may be completely off the mark in another country. For example, the toothpaste manufacturer Pepsodent used a “Whitening Teeth” messaging in a Southern Asia campaign without the awareness that in this culture blackened teeth are attractive.
So how can you ensure that you are ready to meet do business abroad? There are a number of online resources available to help you from the Irish Exporters Association, Enterprise Ireland to Basis and your local Chamber of Commerce. Make sure you take the time to familiarise yourself with the proper etiquette you need to follow when doing business abroad.
If you are doing business abroad and have experienced any cultural difference or if you would like to provide advice on businesses looking to expand in another country, we would love to hear your experience.
Sage 50 Accounts Professional supports foreign currency operation which allows you to trade effectively overseas. View more information about Sage 50 Accounts Professional.