Understanding International Business Etiquette. Part 2

Women in business

In the United States and most of Western Europe, women business executives are common, and nobody will give it a second thought if your company sends a lady executive to make a deal. Be aware though, that this is not the case everywhere. In Saudi Arabia, there will be no lady executives on their side of the table. Western women however, will be accepted. If a Saudi businessman is with his wife (or wives, as the case may be), you will not be introduced to her, or expected to acknowledge her in any way. In situations like this, a woman executive must walk between two worlds, and be especially aware of local customs and modest styles of dress.

Hello, Hola, dobrie vieczor, sawatdee, and as-salamu alaykum

First impressions go a long way, and how you greet somebody for the first time will set the tone for your entire stay. Learn about the local greetings. The standard Western handshake is by no means universal, and greetings in many countries are a lot more elaborate and formal. Many European countries are touch-oriented, and a greeting may be prolonged, involving a handshake followed by kisses on the cheek, for both men and women. In the Middle East, the handshake and kisses are between men only—for example, you would never touch a Saudi woman. Most Asian countries are less touch-oriented, and greetings do not involve touching. In India, you greet with a gesture involving pressing your hands together in a prayer-like motion and holding them up to your chest. In Thailand, you make the same motion but move your joined hand up to your face. In Japan, you bow (the lower you bow, the more respect you show).

Besides the gesture itself, there are customary words that will go with it. If you don’t learn anything else, at least learn how to greet somebody in their native language, and learn how to address them. You’ll seldom use first names only outside of the United States. In Japan, use the last name followed by the “-san” suffix. In Muslim countries, address someone with his name prefixed with “Hajji” if he is a person who has made the Hajj. In Thailand, last names are seldom used, but the first name is prefixed with “Khun”.

Open mind

There are plenty of rules to understand, but the most important factor in learning international business etiquette is to go with an open mind—embrace that other culture and enjoy it. Learn all you can about it, and come back home with that signed contract.

Understanding International Business Etiquette. Part 1

The rapidly expanding global economy means that at some point in your business career, you will do business overseas. And when you do, you will find that the customs, practices, and rules for conducting business are not what you’re used to. Before you get on that plane, take some time to learn the customs of your host, and be prepared to accommodate them.

My rules! You lose

Stubborn businesspeople who try to do business overseas, but adhere strictly to their own customs, won’t get very far. It may be your own practice to invite a new client out to a steak dinner, but you won’t win any friends doing that in India. You may have always been taught to give a firm handshake and look somebody in the eye, but in Thailand you will be seen as too aggressive. And, you may have a custom of being friendly to a customer’s wife, but if you do that in Saudi Arabia, you’ll be on the next plane home.

The point is—you have a certain set of rules for business etiquette that you have learned to follow. But when you go overseas, you’ll have to adjust to international business etiquette rules. There are even rules on properly presenting them your business card.

It’s never “just business”

In the United States, there’s an expression: “It’s just business.” In most other countries, it’s never just business—and you will need to cultivate a personal relationship with your counterparts. Your custom of exchanging a few pleasantries and then getting down to details is no longer valid. You may have to spend days, or even weeks doing nothing but chatting about each others’ families, complimenting them on their fine country, and going out to restaurants and bars together.

Every business deal starts with food

Nothing says more about a culture than its food, and more business deals get started around a dinner table than a conference room. You may have to cultivate a cast iron stomach, because you will be expected to sample the local delicacies. You may be hankering for steak and potatoes, but don’t let on—just smile and eat your red ants and chiles and pretend that you like them.

It’s very likely that you will go out to restaurants with your foreign counterparts, and you may even get invited to their home. Leave your regional tastes behind, and enjoy the variety. It will be an insult if you refuse their local cuisine and insist on a hamburger and fries!

The boozy business deal

With food, there is alcohol. Often, lots of it. And in many countries, it’s not just something to drink, it’s a ritual. If you’re in Poland, your host will pour vodka for everyone around the table, and then toast to your company or your country. You must return the toast, of course, so be prepared with a few kind words to say. This will continue until the bottle is empty. Eastern Europeans tend to have a high tolerance for liquor, so try to pace yourself as much as possible. When you do order a drink, order the local favorite. Instead of your customary light beer, if you’re in Japan, you’ll have sake. In Greece, Ouzo. In France, some marvelous Bordeaux.

Tips on Proper Handshake Etiquette

You are surprised you are reading an article about doing handshakes. You shake your head, with the palm of your hand in your forehead, in disbelief. You claim you know how to give a handshake like the back of your hand. For most people, that is not the case. No sir, it is not. Are you sure you are one of the rare people who knows how to give the right handshake?

We’ve all heard the general assumptions about first impressions, and let’s face it—there really is nothing quite like a first impression. Good or bad, a potential client or customer remembers those crucial first few moments they encounter you. That person deserves your respect, your attention, and a polite attitude, right?

Handshaking is an important interpersonal contact you do, because it gives a really deep impression on someone. Recall when you did you have your last handshake and with who? What kind of a handshake did you get? Did you get “The Pincer” (your hands were crushed)? Did you get “The Dead Fish” (hands were so sloppy; there was no grip at all. Worse: hands were sweaty)? What impression did you make?

The Right Handshake

So you have changed your mind that you do the right handshake, or do you want to improve the handshaking? The process is very simple:

1.) If you are seated, always stand up.

2.) Move so that no object stands between the two of you.

3.) Slide your hand to the other party’s until the webs of your thumbs meet.

4.) Make sure you DO NOT grip until the webs have met.

5.) Grip using a normal force. Do not be a pincer or a dead fish.

6.) Slowly shake from the elbow a couple of times. Do not move the shoulders when shaking; you will look awkward.

7.) Maintain eye contact while shaking.

8.) Cleanly finish the handshake with a smile before the introduction ends.

Protocol: When to Shake Hands

Shaking of the hands is appropriate when:

1.) You have met an acquaintance after a long time.

2.) Meeting someone you rarely see.

3.) Meeting a host, a client or customer, a teacher, a boss, or a colleague for the first time.

4.) Closing a deal. (Especially if it’s a good deal!)

5.) Acknowledging a person who is entering your home or office.

When you are introduced to someone.

Talking without words: Body Language at Work

You’ve heard this many times already: actions speak louder than words. Our friend Ursula the Seawitch from the favorite Disney cartoon Little Mermaid enumerates a person’s assets: “you’ve got your looks, your pretty face!” but she doesn’t end here, she knows there is something more important, “. . . and don’t you ever underestimate the importance of, body language!”

Understanding body language is as important as observing dress codes in the workplace. You may have the perfect clothes and looks, but body language, although non-verbal, makes a deeper impression on people. The physical behavior, your actions and movements, tend to send signals to other people as they observe you. Body language serves as non-verbal communication in certain environment. Take the following instances:

  • Cigar Smoking

When one smokes, other people will think the smoker is: a.) hottie, b.) financially powerful, c.) not a very good person to interact with or d.) just a smoker.

  • Stroking the chin while listening to someone talk

Stroking the chin and nodding indicates that you are in deep thought while you are listening to someone. Or you may just be doing this unctuously.

  • Eye contact

Failure to maintain eye contact may suggest to other parties that you are avoiding them. In some cultures, particularly in the Far East, avoiding eye contact is a sign of respect.

Now, you are convinced that body language is important, let us move on to working with your body language.


  • When standing, you may want to be in a good posture: straighten your back, pull your shoulders a little, and hold your chin up. No, not so up your face is pointing to the sky. This good if not perfect posture will connote that you are confident and intelligent.
  • The folding of the hands indicates insecurity, so avoid this at all costs. Slouching and putting the hands on the pocket suggests a life so lethargic. Lowering the head indicates a low self-esteem.


  • When you take your seat, be sure that you sit up with your back straight. Put your feet firmly in front close to you; or cross your legs at the knees. Do NOT jerk on your knees: you will appear to be either nervous, or in the need to use the washroom.

Head Movement

  • As what was said earlier, a head held up at the chin gives the ‘confident’ look; nodding means that you agree, while shaking the head implies disagreement. Warning: do not nod too much, if you do you would look like the toys they put on the backseats of cars.

Facial Expressions

  • This is a very crucial part of body language than the others. The face is the most seen part of ours, so expressions of the face should be well taken care of. Smiling suggests friendliness and generosity. Smiling at only one side of the mouth, however, is not a smile but a smirk: it is offensive as it expresses scorn or that you are holding a grudge.
  • Frowns express, obviously, disagreement, annoyance, anger, and resentment.
  • The raising of eyebrows show intellectual inquisition, but most of the time it is misinterpreted by people as a body language of arrogance; use sparingly.


  • Always maintain eye contact to a party you are talking to. Do not talk and at the same time look at something else. Maintaining eye contact connotes that you are very serious.

Hand movement

The hands are very effective mediums for non-verbal communication. Some people talk with their hands moving, some with their hands lifeless, and some don’t have a clue what their hands are doing while they talk.

  • Tapping one’s shoulder gently with the palm of your hand suggests that you have confidence to that person.
  • Pointing the index finger upward emphasizes a point.

Caution: use hand movements sparingly when you have not mastered them yet. Hand movements are so effective that they can either make you or break you.