Etiquette is important when conducting business abroad

The Importance of Etiquette when Conducting Business Abroad

Sending the right signals with the correct body language, gestures and etiquette is an important part of conducting business abroad. The ability to be deferential and adapt your way of working to meet the expectations of clients and suppliers is essential. Thankfully, most hosts will be sympathetic of your mistakes, providing you make the effort. It is this willingness to learn and to go the extra mile that will speak volumes about you and your business.

Country specific etiquette

In many cases, your overseas clients, partners and suppliers will be just as unprepared for the way you like to do business; but, when you’re the one setting foot in their country, the onus is on you to do your homework. Proper preparation to send and receive culturally appropriate signals can make the difference between the success and failure of a new venture, so it’s well worth a few minutes of your time.

If you’re looking to build bridges in the Asian market, the traditionally firm Western handshake that we see as a sign of respect can be highly offensive. Instead, a faster, lighter handshake will work more effectively.

In Japan, the business card is something to be revered. If you are given a business card you should treat it with respect. This includes not scribbling notes on it or stuffing it instantly into your pocket. If you are travelling to Japan to do business, it is well worth spending a few quid to translate your business card into Japanese. This is exactly the type of extra effort that’ll stand you in good stead.

In Korea, it takes time to build trust. Asking straight questions that require yes or no answers is frowned upon. Instead, appreciate that the negotiation process in Korea has a completely different rhythm. While you might want to get a deal sewn up in a day, it may take several visits to win their trust.

If you’re working in the Middle East, specifically in Arab countries, you should be mindful of the signals you are sending with your shoes. Showing the soles of your shoes to an Arabian partner or client is extremely offensive, so when you’re seated, make sure your feet are planted firmly on the ground.

That all important personal touch

One of the biggest hurdles we face in the UK is treating business as a purely professional event. In some cultures the personal touch is essential. In much of the western world, we are quite content to stick to the cold hard facts without it affecting our professional relationships.

However, in some countries, the lack of time to ask about personal matters, such as the health of an individual’s family, could cause great offensive. By neglecting to ask these questions you can badly damage your prospects overseas.

Where can you find help?

With thorough research and preparation it is possible to form excellent working relationships with clients, partners and suppliers overseas, you just need to be sensitive to the cultural differences.

The British Chambers of Commerce has a network of experts around the world with an intricate understanding of the culture at play in particular countries to help you to get grips with that market. There’s also plenty of government advice on exporting and importing to and from the UK, including regulations, intellectual property issues and establishing a presence in foreign markets.

And remember, if you need a helping hand to put your best foot forward overseas, Linguistica International should be your first port of call for translating and telephone interpreting services. Just give us a call on +44 2392 987 765 or email:

Alternatively, if you’ve had any calamitous experiences conducting business abroad, we’d love to hear from you on Facebook or Twitter