We talked to five international businesspeople, who provide great tips for how to act when conducting business overseas.
Americans, perhaps deservedly, have a reputation for self-involvement. But the first rule of thumb for conducting international business, as General Manager Marcel Thoma of the Upper House hotel in Hong Kong puts it, is: “master the skill of observation.” Thoma teaches his staff to note details, as adapting to little things, such as the way international clients greet you and the amount eye contact they make, can make a lasting positive impression.
Despite a slew of travel advice, there may be some mistakes you’re still making. We talked to four international businesspeople, who provide great tips for how to act when conducting business overseas:
1. Avoid generalizations and stereotypes. Seth Horowitz, general manager of the Culver Hotel in Los Angeles, is originally from South Africa and says that nothing is worse in customer service — or in interactions with humans in general — than making grand generalizations about an entire country, culture, or continent. International businesspeople should be sensitive to a country’s political climate or heritage, in order to have a vague sense of where their clients might be coming from, but should not make assumptions about individuals’ experiences or beliefs based on what they know.
2. Greet the most senior person in the room first. ALO magazine publisher and international business strategist Wafa Kanan is used to working in the Middle East, and says that in that region, it is important to always greet the most senior person in the room first. Business in the Middle East is built around a culture of respect and interpersonal relationships, and Kanan notes that it is important to create alliances and build relationships before getting down to business. She adds that, in these relationship-building meetings, you shouldn’t expect a “true yes” immediately — just because someone is in agreement with you, does not mean he or she is the final decision maker. Favors, too, are never forgotten, and often play a role in business dealings.
3. Go with the flow. Being too efficient can actually be a downfall in many parts of the world. Spaniard Diego Pastor, who makes a living selling Spain’s famed Iberico and Serrano ham to international markets, reminds us that in Spain (and in many other parts of the world), meals start later, conversations run long, and efficiency is not always a priority. He says, too, not to get surprised if things get personal. Body contact is not unusual, and business colleagues often ask about each other’s families and personal lives. Like in many other countries, showing you’re able to adapt and spend time talking to your client makes a good impression.
4. Multilingual business cards. John Cagle of Cagle Travel spends a lot of time in Latin America and advises frequent travelers to any region to print business cards in the local language. Even if your clients are English-speaking, they may pass your cards around to people who are not. Printing business cards in the local language shows that you’re aware and respectful of your client’s potential needs.