Are you off to a foreign land for business purposes? When meeting with business partners and clients, communication is key.
Next to having those mandatory boardroom conferences, it’s inevitable to have those laidback meetings over coffee or brunch. You’ll be talking about culture, sports, history and current events to lighten up the mood. Now, this is where you’ll be more likely to commit social blunders, or worse, unintended offensive acts that turn people off.
How NOT to be the socially awkward guest during your business travel? Here are 9 things to keep in mind.
1. Learn about the place you’re going to
Familiarize yourself with your destination’s culture, geography, weather, current events, and other things that can spark conversation. It’s also recommended to visit some of the popular destinations in the city and share a bit of your experience. Locals will appreciate you knowing how things are going.
The more you know about the country you’re visiting, the more comfortable you’ll be communicating later on in your business travel.
2. Know the things that are socially accepted (and the things that aren’t)
To begin with, know the right way to address someone. Believe it or not, there are places where handshakes are inappropriate, including Turkey and other Asian countries. In Thailand, you’re more likely to bow with your hands together (praying position) and up to your chest. In China, it’s customary to greet the oldest people first and bow slightly.
Customs vary depending on the country you’re visiting, so make sure to do your research first to know what and what not to do. Pay attention to your body language too. Non-verbal communication matters too.
3. Learn the language
While English is the universal language of the international business world, locals will appreciate you making an effort to learn a bit of their local language.
Start with the basic greetings. Dropping a simple “hello”, “thank you”, “goodbye”, and “it was nice meeting you” in their language, can go a long way. Let Google Translate be your best friend.
4. Brush off language and culture stereotypes
There’s a fine line between “speaking their language” and “being racist.” Avoid imitating or exaggerating their accents, as well as opening up about stereotypes.
5. Praise the food
Are you going out for a brunch meeting? Even if you don’t like the food, never criticize it. Tip: it’s not rude to inform the server about your diet preferences (religious restrictions, spiciness tolerance, and health restrictions) upon ordering. That would be better than criticizing the food on your plate, which might translate as an insult to their culture.
It’s also suggested to learn the dining customs and table etiquette of the country you’re visiting.
6. Dress accordingly
The term “business casual” might mean different things in other countries. Your best bet is to dress conservatively. Stick to a well-tailored suit, especially when you’re in a conference room. Avoid excessive jewelry and opt for dark-colored, conservative corporate attire. For ladies, do your research about dress codes. In China, you should avoid wearing heels, jeans, and clothes with low necklines.
7. Be punctual
Like the dress code, how “punctual” you are may vary. In most cases, when someone says a meeting starts at 9 a.m., it starts at exactly 9 a.m. Being too early or too late may be considered rude. The golden rule is NOT to be late and to arrive at least 15 minutes earlier than the given time.
8. Observe meeting room etiquette
Regardless of where you are, make sure to observe the following rules when you’re in meeting or conference rooms:
- Arrive on time or a few minutes earlier
- Come prepared with the materials you’ll need for the meeting
- Know the right way to address someone
- Be courteous with respect to your use of technology
- Dress accordingly
- Watch your words, tone, and body language.
- Don’t raise your voice or get too confrontational during negotiations.
- Always clean up after yourself when leaving the conference room
- Leave promptly when your meeting time slot has ended
9. Keep things professional
Research your host country to determine the appropriate professional conduct. Some cultures want to get straight to business talk, others want to start with small talks. Even the way of giving and receiving business cards vary.
If you must talk casually, keep the conversation light. There are “off-limit” topics you shouldn’t be talking about, like religion, politics, life outside of work, and the negative things about the country. Keep it safe by talking about the weather, food, sports, and current events.
Author Bio: Carmina Natividad is a passionate writer for Meet in DCU, a unique conference venue in Dublin which is perfect for corporate meetings, conferences, seminars and events. Writing articles about travel and lifestyle is one thing she finds enjoyable, next to playing the piano.