How people from various cultures perceive information and negotiate business deals can differ a great deal. The best way to avoid potentially embarrassing and costly miscues when dealing with foreign cultures is to be prepared. One of the most important things to remember is that from the moment you step off the plane in a foreign country, you are a guest.
Just like anything you do in business you need to do your research. Before you leave home, spend the time to learn about the country you’re about to travel to. Chances are you or your company are investing a fair amount of money into your trip abroad. Don’t let a small misstep destroy your opportunity to succeed. Be sure all your presentations and all supporting documents are printed in the host country’s language as well as your own. This includes business cards. Another very important thing to remember is that, in almost every circumstance, you should avoid offering any political opinions.
Here are a few things to think about as you prepare for your trip. If you gather this information for the country in which you’re about to do business in, you’ll put yourself in a good position to have a successful business trip abroad. Keep in mind that few people are perfect representatives of their own cultures. This doesn’t make them a poor representatives of their culture; it simply makes them an individual.
What is the country’s background?
How has it developed? What type of government is in place? Are there any religious and political aspects to be aware of? Is there separation between church and state? What is the statistical religious breakdown of the county’s population?
What are the Demographics?
Who makes up the country’s population? Is there a significant percentage of immigrants who have settled in the country? If so, what role do they play?
What language is spoken?
What is the official language? Is there more than one? Does it differ by area?
What is the typical greeting?
Is it traditional to shake hands? Bow? Kiss on the cheek? Kiss on both checks? Three kisses, alternating cheeks each time?
How should you address a person?
Do you address one by first name? Last name?
What about gestures?
Is it important to maintain eye contact? Hand gestures? Avoid any gestures?
What should you wear?
Dress is an important part of making an impression. Is business attire considered to be conservative in the country? Should women wear a dress or a skirt or pants?
Should you bring a gift?
Is it traditional to bring a gift? Should it be a small token or something of high quality?
How do your host country’s values come into play?
Do friends and family play a role in decision making? What are the typical methods of defining what is right and what is wrong?
How do your hosts negotiate?
Have your facts straight. Facts are always acceptable as long as you can prove them. What do business people in the county typically accept as evidence? Is there an ego factor? Should you challenge them on any or all fronts?
What’s in the local news?
Have an idea of what the key local news topics are in case the conversation opens or goes that route. Know who local and national leaders are. Know what is important before you go by reading local newspapers online or listening to local radio stations online.