Acing the international business meeting
All eyes will be on Rio tonight for the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Summer Olympics, and the event offers a good chance to look at the importance of understanding etiquette and standards across countries and cultures. After all, when you’re traveling for work, you’re often representing the company…and the business meeting is the main act! Having an in-depth understanding of the best way to run and conduct yourself, wherever you are in the world, will help you to strengthen international relations and achieve optimal results.
Research from Booking.com for Business has revealed that 62% of the surveyed participants (see below for demographic) believe that a lack of understanding in business etiquette is impacting companies’ reputations worldwide.
To help figure out the best way to conduct yourself, wherever you are in the world, we’ve asked two leading business etiquette experts for some tips on how to ace the business meeting – no matter where it is.
Punctuality is universally respected
“In the US, the typical work day is 8:00 or 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. Meetings usually take place between those hours, but 7:00 a.m. breakfast meetings or evening dinner meetings are not uncommon, as people look to maximize business opportunities,” says Arden Clise, author and president of Clise Etiquette.
“In Europe, however, meetings typically don’t take place before 10:00 a.m. or after 3:00 p.m. (with some exceptions, including the UK). Always be punctual. However, understand that your contact in some regions may show up late to indicate their level of authority. They’re the boss, so don’t take it personally.”
According to Sara Jane Ho, Director of Institute Sarita, tardiness can sometimes also be common in South America.
“In all Latin American countries, arriving up to half an hour late is common as the attitude towards time is less rigid,” she says, adding that this isn’t the case in most Eastern cultures. “Being punctual for meetings is extremely important in Asian business culture. It can be interpreted as a sign of disrespect. Similarly, try to avoid scheduling meetings Chinese New Year (January/February) and Mooncake Festival (September/October) when most take holiday.”
Understand who’s running the show
“In the US, the person with the most authority doesn’t necessarily dictate who’ll run a meeting. Financial decisions up to a certain amount can be made by middle managers and are sometimes decided in just one meeting. You can expect to receive a written legal contract soon after a verbal agreement, so make sure you really understand those figures to avoid any nasty shocks,” says Clise.
The same, however, is not always true in China and many Asian countries.
“In China, the most senior person on the team is king of the meeting, doing the talking for everyone while his colleagues sit in silence and take notes. Northern Chinese (typically Beijing) bosses bring an army of subordinates to meetings and meals, like an entourage,” Says Ho. “In Japan, rank is made very clear: in all business meetings the most senior person on the team enters the room first or is greeted first. They then sit in the middle of the table.”
Business before pleasure (or vice versa)?
“When it comes to meetings in Europe, don’t rush into discussing business. It’s important to socialize first. Follow the lead of your host when it comes to moving from social to business conversation. Meetings tend to be focused more on building relationships, idea exchange, and discussion rather than making quick decisions,” says Clise.
The same is true in parts of China, but it depends on the region.
“In Beijing and Northern China, initial meetings are usually centered around drinking tea and getting to know each other first, and often you can sit around for two hours without discussing any business or knowing the purpose of the meeting,” says Ho, adding that Southern China can be more formal. “In Shanghai and other parts of the south, meetings are more efficient, with a boss coming on his own or bringing just one member of staff, and getting down to business immediately before any social chat.”
So there you have it. Keeps these tips in mind, and remember to always do your homework. If you’re well prepared, you’ll always give yourself a better chance of acing that tricky international business meeting.
 Research commissioned by Booking.com and independently surveyed 4,555 men and women aged 18-65 who have travelled internationally for business four times or more in the past year across USA, UK, Germany, France, Spain, Japan, China and Italy. Research took place between 29th January – 11th February 2016.