Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
Ian Garner
Business Writer
3:00 AM 13th November 2021

Are You Ready For Your First Overseas Business Meeting?

Image: Joshua Woroniecki / Pixabay
Image: Joshua Woroniecki / Pixabay
Your first business meeting in an overseas country can be very daunting! You can be nervous about making a faux pas and/or embarrassing yourself or company. A profitable business relationship needs trust. Taking an interest in the culture of your customer helps build trust and shows you are serious about a long-term relationship.

Spend time researching culture, customs and behaviours including how people greet each other, body language and gestures, giving and receiving business cards, giving and receiving gifts and how meetings are conducted. Not being prepared could lead to a misunderstanding that affects your business relationship.

Image: Gerd Altmann
Image: Gerd Altmann
Never assume that business meetings will be conducted in English. Communication and relationships would be vastly improved if you could speak their language. If you do not, it is considered respectful if you can at least speak a few lines of greetings. Knowing a few words and phrases in your client’s language can help build rapport, even if you need an interpreter for more involved communication.

If the business culture of a country values face-to-face meetings to build relationships, then there may be no alternative to visiting the country if you want to do business there.

In European and North American countries, a firm handshake is often considered a judge of character. In Australia it can almost be a trial of strength, with a ‘bone crushing’ squeeze. It’s best to be prepared. However, in Asia and the Middle East a firm handshake would be considered a form of insult. In these markets your handshake should be light and gentle. If you are meeting a female in a Muslim country you should wait for the female to make the first move, if she offers her hand you should reciprocate but if not you should not attempt a handshake as this would be inappropriate and cause great offence.

Running out of business cards is unforgivable when conducting business overseas, it’s just not acceptable. Make sure you have a generous supply with you at all times. In Western culture we are quite casual about giving a business card. At some meeting business cards are distributed like a dealer at a Las Vegas casino, flicking cards around a table.

Image: Alexander Lesnitsky
Image: Alexander Lesnitsky
The etiquette for giving and receiving business cards in Asia and parts of the Middle East is very different. It’s courtesy to hold your business card with two hands, pass it over, and receive one in the same way, communicating the importance of the meeting. Business cards represent the person to whom you are being introduced, so it is polite to study the card for a while and then put it on the table next to you or in a business card case. Never put the card straight into your pocket and definitely don’t write on a business card, that would be a great insult.

In Asia, particularly China, there are some rules of introduction with regards to seniority and even sexes. The junior should be introduced to the senior first, the male should be introduced to the female first, the ‘inferior’ should be introduced to the ‘superior’ first and the host should be introduced to the guest first.

The Chinese put a huge amount of importance on time, and as such how early you are is used to reflect how much importance you have for the meeting and how much you value those in attendance. Don’t be surprised if Indian business partners are late, this is quite normal in India and not a sign of disrespect.

The Seating Arrangements, the place of honour is always to the host’s right on the sofa or in chairs that are opposite the room’s doors, and this is where the most senior person should be seated. If the meeting is held around a large conference table, then the guest of honour sits directly opposite the host. This is particularly common if the meeting is between Chinese and foreigners, with the Chinese on one side and foreigners on the other.
Images: 905513 /PixabayImages: 905513 /Pixabay

Giving and receiving gifts properly is an important part of international business. Frequently when visiting businesses overseas your host will give you a gift. These are normally of low value but have a local theme. Make sure you have gifts available to reciprocate. There are many different types of gifts that can be given to business partners. First of all, a gift from your home country or region will almost always go over well. Most people overseas do not have the opportunity to travel abroad so gifts from our country, especially those that cannot be easily purchased in their country, are highly valued. Yorkshire toffees, Yorkshire Tea and other local gifts are usually very well received. Remember alcohol or foods that include alcohol should be avoided, particularly in Muslim countries.

Ian Garner
Ian Garner
Business writer Ian Garner, is a retired Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute (FCMI) and a Fellow of the Institute of Directors (FIoD). He is Vice Chair of the Institute of Directors, North Yorkshire Branch. He is founder and director at Practical Solutions Management, a strategic consultancy practice and skilled in developing strategy and providing strategic direction, specialising in business growth and leadership. Ian has recently joined Board of Maggie’s Cancer Centre in Leeds