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February 2015 £4.50
FOR THE ENTREPRENEUR BY THE ENTREPRENEUR
THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESSHe went from being homeless and jobless to being a millionaire businessman, portrayed in a blockbuster Hollywood film by Will Smith. Chris Gardner takes us on his journey to ‘Happyness’
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128 February 2015
or the French, Chinese, Chilean...
If Twitter had existed in the 17th Century, the metaphysical poet and cleric, John Donne’s tweet proclaiming that: “No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent”, may well have had enough universal appeal to have gone viral.
From a human perspective, reaching out and connecting with other people is a natural impulse; it’s embedded into our DNA.
From a commercial, transactional perspective, reaching out from this country’s island mindset across international borders is not just an impulse, it’s a prerequisite for broadening one’s customer base, and for fiscal growth. This is especially so for British businesses.
Since the 1980s, the UK has transitioned from being a predominantly manufacturing-
based economy to more of a service-based one. And this shift in the core commodity - from trading in ‘things’ to trading in services, means that human interaction is becoming an increasingly important determinant of the longevity of business relationships.
That’s the paradox of today’s business environment: we’re unprecedentedly reliant on technology to connect with new
Business writer, corporate communications consultant, and author of International Business Etiquette 20:20, Paul Sillers shares some unexpected business culture tips to help you trade internationally
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prospects - yet together with that dependence on technology, to thrive in a service-oriented economy, you need to excel at social skills. It’s the human touch that differentiates you from your competitors when you’re operating across international borders.
Whether you’re doing business with China, Russia, Indonesia, Korea, or closer to home in Europe, aligning the way you interact with business people of a different culture can mean the difference between success and failure.
The challenge therefore for today’s British business executive with global ambitions, is to master the art of international business etiquette; to know how to ‘do as the Romans do’ (and not just when you’re in Rome).
But how do you get to grips with foreign business cultures? Here are five key areas to be mindful of:
1 GREETINGS, BUSINESS CARDS, AND HANDSHAKES
Sorry to start off with a cliché - but it’s still pertinent: you only get one chance to make a first impression. The regimented protocols for greeting people in foreign climes vary enormously. Business cards are important - and not just in Japan. In many countries it’s important to have your card translated and native language side up as you present your card.
Handshakes vary from the bone-crushing encounters commonplace in Russia, to the rather limp handshake in Indonesia which lasts for about 15 seconds, accompanied by saying the word “Selamet”. In Korea, when shaking hands, the right arm is supported by the left hand.
2 BUSINESS GIFTSIntegral to laying the foundations for business in some countries - or a bribe in others - it’s vital to be aware which gift works in your country of interest. If you’re visiting a client in Russia, don’t bring vodka, or anything of Russian origin - they’ll think you’re mocking them. In China, popular gifts to give a business client are vitamin pills, health supplements and, incongruously, foreign cigarettes.
3 BUSINESS ATTIREYour attire signifies your attention to detail, respect for the host culture, and your personal sense of style. It’s one of the trickier areas of business etiquette to second guess. Always err on the side of formality, for it’s safer to be more formally dressed than your counterpart, than to turn up looking too casual. And remember, ‘dress-down Friday’ is the prerogative of your clients - it doesn’t mean that you should mirror their dress code when you’re working abroad.
4 PRESENTATION SLIDESSome companies have a deck of slides that they show to all their foreign clients, regardless of which country they’re from - big mistake!
In some countries, slide shows are a big turn-off. In Saudi Arabia for example, presentations are more about interpersonal dialogue rather than a lengthy and flashy slide deck. By contrast, in Germany, people in business favour long and detailed slide presentations that demonstrate your methodical and
holistic approach. German business people appreciate a presentation that puts over a ‘gesamtkonzept’ - a kind of grand plan, which is a combination of a mission statement, a brand position, and in some ways it’s also a bit like what the French would call a ‘fait accompli’ - that’s to say that the concept in itself is mapped out in its entirety.
5 CHIT-CHATIn the English-speaking provinces of Canada, in the US, and in Germany, there’s minimal preamble before getting down to talking business. But in contrast, in the Middle East, South East Asia, Southern Europe and South America, there can be extended periods of small talk before it’s appropriate to talk shop. But don’t think for a moment that chit-chat is a waste of time. In Mexico for example, it’s commonplace to spend three hours over dinner talking about family, education, and other things you do outside the office. When the dessert is eventually served, your counterpart will have garnered enough social intel about you to have decided whether they want to start talking business with you.
The point is - business is not about transactions, and it’s not even about having a compelling business case, or an outstanding product. It’s about personal chemistry, and respecting the business culture when you’re operating abroad. The catalyst that can activate things in your favour is mastery of the relevant business etiquette that applies in your target country.
To thrive in a service-oriented economy, you need to excel at social skills. It’s the human touch that
differentiates you from your competitors when you’re operating across international borders
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