Avoid Cultural Gaffes When Dealing in International Business

avoiding_cultural_gaffes_webWith technology at our fingertips, studying international business, taking internships abroad, and learning about today’s global marketplace is easier than ever. Ensuring you know how to recognize and respect business dealings of other countries is an important part of the process, so check out this post from guest blogger Heide Brandes.

Knowing business etiquette for foreign meetings can help make you a job search star.

When the Executive Director of Foreign Affairs for Taiwan presented his business card to me, I took it with both hands, studying the feel of the paper, the type of font, and the spelling of his name.

When I passed my card to him, he did the same. In Taiwan, and many Asian countries, the presentation of one’s business card is a serious event. It deserves respect and the time it takes to really look at the card and study it. Why?

It’s just considered good business. In America, we tend to slide our cards in a casual way across a board room table to everyone present, but that habit would be considered rude and even insulting in other countries.

Luckily, I looked up the business etiquette standards for Taiwan before my trip, so when the opportunity arose, I was able to honor my business associate by behaving appropriately.

In international business, first impressions are vital. To put a foreign partner at ease, you must avoid cultural gaffes, build trust, and know the customs concerning business wear, body language, handshakes, and more.

Clients thousands of miles away are easily reached in today’s society through video messaging, the internet, and email. So, knowing how to conduct yourself in other cultures is vital to having business success. Not only do you have the chance to impress foreign clients and your boss, you can also make yourself stand out on a global scale.

Do Your Homework
In some Asian countries, holding eye contact for too long is considered impolite or aggressive. On the other hand, Canadian businessmen emphasize eye contact as a way of showing respect and interest in what the other person is saying.

The best way to know what’s acceptable and what’s not is by doing your homework.

The acceptable business etiquette for any country can be found on the internet and in travel books, so it’s easy to educate yourself on the common practices. For example, if you are traveling to India, it’s good to know that ordering beef at a business lunch is considered rude since cows are sacred animals in that country.

Never be late to a meeting with Canadian business executives, as they value punctuality. And when dealing with the Japanese, let them initiate a handshake first because sometimes handshakes are not acceptable.

Set Your Ego Aside
In the U.S., Americans take pride in our strengths and our individuality. Holding heads high and portraying confident body language shows one is a capable and successful business person.

But in Japan, for instance, it is common practice to divert your eyes when dealing with a business partner in a higher position than you are. In business dealings, showing respect can mean the difference between a contract or a failure.

Admit Ignorance or “The Power of Apology”
If you do commit a cultural gaffe while dealing with foreign clients, apologize quickly and make it clear that you were unaware of your mistake.

Like you, foreign clients are on unfamiliar ground when doing business outside their home country. Apologize quickly and sincerely if you make a mistake and ask your client what the proper etiquette is, giving him or her the chance to explain.

The Importance of Food
In many societies, food is a ritual. With business dealings, the same theory applies. If you are invited to a lunch or formal dinner with foreign colleagues, brush up on the local dinner table manners. For instance, never put your chopsticks upright in rice, as it is reminiscent of incense sticks burned at a funeral in many Asian countries.

While eating with your hands is acceptable in India, it’s strictly taboo in other cultures. In France, politeness dictates that you rest your hands on the table instead of your lap.

Never Assume
Every society has its rules and quirks. It’s important to know or at least attempt to know the different customs of the clients you deal with in order to maintain a level of professionalism in your career.

How about you? Share your stories – both good and embarrassing – about dealing with foreign clients in the comments section below.

Movin’ On Up is brought to you by Express Employment Professionals.

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