Minding Your Global Manners in Business
by Lydia Ramsey

To say that today's business
environment is becoming
increasingly more global is to state the obvious.  Meetings, phone calls and
conferences are held all over the world and attendees can come from any point on
the globe.  

On any given business day you can find yourself dealing face-to-face, over the
phone, by e-mail and, on rare occasions, by postal letter, with people whose
customs and cultures differ your own. You may never have to leave home to
interact on an international level.

While the old adage "When in Rome, do as the Romans do" still holds true,
business clients and colleagues who are visiting this country should be treated with
sensitivity and with an awareness of their unique culture. Not to do your
homework and put your best international foot forward can cost you relationships
and future business. One small misstep such as using first names inappropriately,
not observing the rules of timing or sending the wrong color flower in the welcome
bouquet can be costly.

There is no one set of rules that applies to all international visitors so do the
research for each country that your clients represent. That may sound like a
daunting task, but taken in small steps, it is manageable and the rewards are worth
the effort.  Keeping in mind that there are as many ways to do business as there are
countries to do business with, here are a few tips for minding your global P's and

Building relationships:  Few other people are as eager to get down to business as
we Americans.  So take time to get to know your international clients and build
rapport before you rush to the bottom line.  Business relationships are built on trust
that is developed over time, especially with people from Asia and Latin America.

Dressing conservatively: Americans like to dress for fashion and comfort, but
people from other parts of the world are generally more conservative. Your choice
of business attire is a signal of your respect for the other person or organization.
Leave your trendy clothes in the closet on the days that you meet with your foreign

Observe the hierarchy: It is not always a simple matter to know who is the
highest-ranking member when you are dealing with a group.  To avoid
embarrassment, err on the side of age and masculine gender,  only if you are unable
to discover the protocol with research. If you are interacting with the Japanese, it is
important to understand that they make decisions by consensus, starting with the
younger members of the group.  By contrast, Latin people have a clear hierarchy
that defers to age.

Understanding the handshake: With a few exceptions, business people around the
world use the handshake for meeting and greeting.  However, the American style
handshake with a firm grip, two quick pumps, eye contact and a smile is not
universal. Variations in handshakes are based on cultural differences, not on
personality or values. The Japanese give a light handshake. Germans offer a firm
shake with one pump, and the French grip is light with a quick pump. Middle
Eastern people will continue shaking your hand throughout the greeting. Don't be
surprised if you are occasionally met with a kiss, a hug, or a bow somewhere along
the way.

Using titles and correct forms of address: We are very informal in the United States
and are quick to call people by their first name. Approach first names with caution
when dealing with people from other cultures. Use titles and last names until you
have been invited to use the person's first name. In some cases, this may never
occur. Use of first names is reserved for family and close friends in some cultures.

Titles are given more significance around the world than in the United States and
are another important aspect of addressing business people.  Earned academic
degrees are acknowledged. For example, a German engineer is addressed as "Herr
Ingenieur" and a professor as "Herr Professor". Listen carefully when you are
introduced to someone and pay attention to business cards when you receive them.

Exchanging business cards: The key to giving out business cards in any culture is
to show respect for the other person. Present your card so that the other person
does not have to turn it over to read your information. Use both hands to present
your card to visitors from Japan, China, Singapore, or Hong Kong.  When you
receive someone else's business card, always look at it and acknowledge it. When
you put it away, place it carefully in your card case or with your business
documents. Sticking it haphazardly in your pocket is demeaning to the giver. In
most cases, wait until you have been introduced to give someone your card.

Valuing time:  Not everyone in the world is as time conscious as Americans.  Don't
take it personally if someone from a more relaxed culture keeps you waiting or
spends more of that commodity than you normally would in meetings or over
meals. Stick to the rules of punctuality, but be understanding when your contact
from another country seems unconcerned.

Honoring space issues: Americans have a particular value for their own physical
space and are uncomfortable when other people get in their realm. If the
international visitor seems to want to be close, accept it.  Backing away can send the
wrong message. So can touching. You shouldn't risk violating someone else's space
by touching them in any way other than with a handshake.

Whether the world comes to you or you go out to it, the greatest compliment you
can pay your international clients is to learn about their country and their customs.  
Understand differences in behavior and honor them with your actions. Don't  take
offense when visitors behave according to their norms. People from other cultures
will appreciate your efforts to accommodate them and you will find yourself
building your international clientele

About the Author  Lydia Ramsey is a business etiquette expert, professional
speaker, corporate trainer and author of MANNERS THAT SELL - ADDING THE
POLISH THAT BUILDS PROFITS.  She has been quoted or featured in The New
York Times, Investors' Business Daily, Entrepreneur, Inc., Real Simple and
Woman's Day. For more information about her programs, products and services,
e-mail her at
lydia@mannersthatsell.com or visit her web site Manners that Sell.
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