If you want to succeed in international business, you need to keep cultural differences in mind any time you travel. After all, a polite gesture in one country can be seen as offensive in another. As you gear up for business travel, keep these cultural differences - as well as some similarities - in mind.
When you do business in the U.S., you immediately shake hands firmly when you meet people. If you're traveling to Germany, Brazil, Switzerland, New Zealand, Canada or Austria, you'll find that this business etiquette is the same.
And while professionals in countries like Singapore, France, Belgium, United Kingdom and India also welcome handshakes, they prefer them to be light and fast. This is also the case in China and Japan, but you should add in a slight bow if you want to show that you respect their business practices. Even better, bring a small gift with you when you meet someone in China, or a business card if you're meeting someone in Japan.
Your knowledge of cultural differences will be made apparent during meetings in other countries. This is why you should keep in mind how to act when you meet with others during business travel. For example, in countries like India, Brazil, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, you should avoid jumping right into business talk when you meet. Instead, spend a few minutes talking about how your weekend went and other pleasant topics of conversation.
On the other hand, feel free to get right down to business when you meet in Switzerland, United Kingdom, Canada or Singapore, because small talk during meetings is not encouraged there. But don't expect to come to any agreements right away. In countries like Singapore, Russia and Japan, professionals might nod and even say "yes," but it doesn't always mean they agree with what you're saying. They might either disagree or have to consult with their boss before making any decisions.
When you're used to doing business in Canada or the U.S., you assume that making eye contact when you talk to people is just good business etiquette. It's the same in France, Germany and Spain. But in a country like the United Arab Emirates, you can't expect men to make eye contact with women, since this is not one of their usual practices. And Japanese professionals might be too busy closing their eyes - a sign that they're listening intently - to make eye contact.
Certain types of body language can be taken differently in varying cultures, too. Giving a person thumbs up is offensive in New Zealand, while talking with your hands a lot is considered impolite in China, Japan and Belgium. In fact, professionals in Belgium often also find it rude when people point or snap their fingers. What's rude in Germany? Putting your hands in your pockets while you talk to someone.
You'll likely eat with your colleagues at some point during business travel. When the time comes, you'll need to know the cultural differences and similarities before you sit down. To start, it's good to know that eating all the food on your plate is polite in Switzerland, but it's seen as rude in China.
When you eat in the United Arab Emirates, only use your right hand, since it's insulting to use your left hand. And try not to order beef when you dine in India, since the cow is sacred there. Also, when you dine in Japan, resist the urge to leave a tip, since it's seen as rude in that country.
As you can see, you're bound to encounter some cultural differences during business travel. But you're also going to see some similarities that will make you feel right at home. Being aware of both should increase your confidence as you build business relationships in multiple countries.