International Business Etiquette: A Guide

Meetings play an important role in every business, from internal reviews to external ones attempting to get new clients on board.

As your company expands it may start looking further afield, to the international market for fresh business and investors. This is likely to involve going to meetings abroad and holding important talks with foreign business people.

Wherever and whoever you’re involved in a business meeting with there are a set of general conventions that should always be followed. However, many countries have their own specific business etiquette which is adhered to during business meetings that you must be aware of to ensure the best outcome from the session.

General Rules of Business Etiquette

How you present and conduct yourself in a business meeting when dealing with people you are unfamiliar with will leave a lasting impression. This needs to be spot on to earn their trust and investment, whether a potential client, colleague, boss or investor. There are many general tips for maintaining a professional appearance.

Timely Arrival

Lateness is an instant sign of unprofessionalism. Arrive early to ensure you don’t waste anyone else’s time and ensure you’re fully prepared beforehand. If you’re hosting the meeting then make sure everything is set out and ready to start at the designated kick-off time.

Good Organisation

A strong agenda is necessary when chairing a business meeting to retain focus throughout and lead to positive results. Ensure all the required equipment is in the chosen meeting room and in good working order, along with enough seats. Any refreshments should be at the ready so they don’t eat into business time.

Remain Attentive

Always pay full attention, listening carefully and making notes throughout. Nothing looks worse than asking a question which has already been answered. Speak loudly and clearly and avoid interrupting unless absolutely necessary as this is viewed as rude by many.

Respect Unwritten Protocol

Where drinks and/or food are provided assume it is fine to eat and drink during the meeting but ask permission before bringing out your own. Leave your phone in your pocket on silent and close laptops unless needed for the meeting. Dress as you would for any business meeting, playing it safe by being overly formal if the type of attire required is unclear.

European Business Etiquette

The expected etiquette for European business meetings is similar to above and probably what you have already experienced. They tend to have a more informal feel, introductions and jokes are welcome and all involved in the meeting are expected to contribute and not sit using phones or laptops. If you intend to present a gift then sticking with professional themes is advised though.

There are some differences regarding time, with Italy and Spain more lenient to lateness but it is still best to be on time. Shaking hands is a common sign of greeting and agreement, with the odd culture embracing the two-cheek kiss.

American Business Etiquette

There are many different factors which can affect adopting the appropriate standards for business meeting etiquette in the USA, mainly depending on the industry your company is in. Tech businesses may be less stringent about your attire for example. Otherwise a lot of elements overlap with European style.

Greetings with a firm handshake and eye contact and referring to new people with proper titles until told otherwise is best practice. Despite some preconceptions, interrupting is really frowned upon and everyone is treated equally in the US working world. Gift giving is not a necessity unlike in other nations.

Asian Business Etiquette

Going to a business meeting in Asia or holding one for business people from the region in your office is likely to bring about the most culturally diverse elements. For many bowing is used in place of handshakes and the importance of business cards can’t be overlooked when observing business etiquette in Asia. Use both hands to give and receive them, study your counterparts carefully as a sign of interest.

Ask what title you should use when referring to each individual, don’t assume as you could easily offend them. Learn a few phrases in their language to quickly endear yourself towards them and be sure to have a gift on hand as this is an expectation in many Asian countries.  They’ll quite probably have one to present to you.

African Business Etiquette

Africa is such a large and varied continent that business practices differ across the region. In the Islamic nations there is more of a tendency for lengthy handshakes whereas southern countries with colonial histories follow more European styles, for example. The first meeting set up is likely to be more of a getting to know each other affair than business discussion.

Similar business attire of shirt and tie is expected, though there is some leniency given the continent’s hot climate. Small gifts are appreciated while gestures such as pointing directly at people and making a V sign are considered incredibly rude. Avoid raising your voice, interrupting or referring to a woman as ‘Miss’ as these can all cause offence.

Adopting the appropriate international business meeting etiquette for those you’re working with will greatly increase your chance of a successful deal being achieved.