Business Etiquette

Conduct effective meetings

As communication styles differ, so does meeting behavior. Your meetings with international associates will be productive when you.
  • Deal with ambiguity
  • Respect personal pride.

Deal with ambiguity

One of your most difficult challenges in doing business internationally will be dealing with ambiguity. People of other cultures often understand everyday words and events very differently than you do
They may have divergent views of the purpose of meetings, the function of rules, and even the meanings of yes and no
To avoid confusion, research their cultures and watch for signs that your understanding of a word or event differs from theirs.

The purpose of meetings

People of different cultures hold meetings for different reasons. In Germany meetings are a means for experts to exchange information. Each expert will be well prepared and will not expect to be questioned or challenged. In America, Holland, and Britain, meetings are for debating ideas, making decisions, and developing action plans. Everyone is expected to contribute. In France, a meeting is not for debate, but for the boss to announce previously made decisions and seek specific information. In Mediterranean cultures, meetings are for sorting out the politics and personal relationships affected by decisions made elsewhere, over coffee or dinner.
In some cultures, meetings are used to first examine the reasons why a proposed action should not be taken and, only after this has been done, to examine the reasons it should be taken. This process will often make the meeting seem unnecessarily long to you; but if you attempt to short-circuit the process, the attendees will feel that you haven’t covered all the angles and will mistrust your proposed course of action. Be sure you know the purpose of the meetings you attend.

The function of rules

In direct cultures, rules are to be followed always and by everyone. In cultures that emphasize the well being of the extended family and peer group, rules are for everyone else, that amorphous society as a whole. In these cultures, the ability to get around the system proves your intelligence and ingenuity.

The meanings of Yes and No

Be prepared to clarify what people mean when they say yes or no. Ask searching questions and look for a mismatch between words and intention – it often reveals itself in tone of voice or facial expression.
In many oriental cultures, as in Indonesia and Japan, the overwhelming need to avoid disharmony and ill feeling leads people to say yes when they mean no. If you ask people in Indonesia to give you directions, they will happily comply, even if they have no idea where your destination is. They just don’t want to disappoint you! For people from direct cultures, this is frustrating.
In meetings you will find the same pattern. “Yes” may mean no more than, “Yes, I hear what you are saying,” and it falls to you as the listener to establish the precise meaning.
The French have an interesting variation: they will use the phrase en principe after yes or no. This means “in theory;” and can change the yes to no, or vice versa. An American went into a well-reputed hotel in Paris, looking for a room for the night. When he asked if there was one available, the desk clerk replied, “En principe, non.” As he walked away, the clerk called him back. What the clerk was trying to convey was that there were rooms available, it was just a question of how much the business man was prepared to pay.

Respect personal pride

Saving face is of paramount importance in many Asian cultures. To make your meetings successful, avoid embarrassing the other parties, either by asking a question to which they don’t know the answer or indulging in point scoring. Point scoring may make you feel good in the short-term, but it will damage your long-term business.
Take your cue from members of the foreign team. Often younger, though more expert, team members will defer to the most senior person. Do not ignore or bypass the senior team member, even if it is clear that he is not the expert. He fulfills another, no less important function on the team, representing the approval of the company, which invests them with the authority to do business. It never hurts to allow other people their place.