Need and Impact of International Business Etiquette

September 1, 2023
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In an era where globalisation is the norm, international business etiquette has never been more critical. 

As companies expand across borders, understanding and respecting various cultures' subtle nuances and customs is paramount. 

Business etiquette may seem like a simple set of guidelines for polite behaviour in the corporate world. Still, it encompasses a much broader spectrum when viewed from an international perspective. 

Importance of International Business Etiquette

In the intricate tapestry of global commerce, the threads of international business etiquette are woven with precision and care, binding businesses from different cultures into cohesive partnerships. 

As companies venture beyond their local confines, the language of respect, understanding and professionalism—often encapsulated in the unspoken rules of etiquette—becomes paramount. 

It's not just about the spoken word but the gestures, the nuances and the subtleties that convey commitment and respect. An old study by Southern Adventist University found that 91% of respondents rated business etiquette as very important. 

International business etiquette, therefore, is no longer an afterthought; it's a fundamental necessity for organisations aspiring to make their mark on the global stage.

1. Builds a Foundation For Long-term Relationships

Relationships form the backbone of any business venture. Just as trust and mutual respect are essential for personal relationships, why is business etiquette important professionally? 

It ensures that both parties feel respected, valued and understood. By adhering to international etiquette, companies pave the way for relationships that can weather challenges and grow over time.

2. Helps in Business Deals

A simple misunderstanding due to cultural differences can jeopardise an otherwise promising business deal. 

Understanding and practising international business etiquette ensures smoother negotiations, clear communication and a higher probability of successful collaborations.

“To effectively communicate, we must realise that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.”

Tony Robbins, top business strategist and author 

3. Builds Company Image

A company sensitive to international customs and traditions portrays professionalism and a deep respect for the nations and cultures they work with. 

A positive company image, bolstered by proper business etiquette, can translate to higher trust levels and attract good talent. Whereas, a bad reputation that can do more harm. 

A study found that 69 % of US job seekers would reject a job offer from a company with a bad employer brand. 

4. Fosters Cultural Sensitivity

Embracing international etiquette allows companies to be culturally sensitive, minimising inadvertent offences. This cultural sensitivity fosters an environment of inclusivity, understanding and mutual respect, which is important to attract newer people. 

A Glassdoor survey reports that 67% of job seekers consider cultural diversity an important factor when evaluating companies. 

International Business Etiquette Tips You Should Know

Greetings: Different cultures have different greeting norms. While a handshake is standard in Western countries, a bow is traditional in Japan and a namaste in India. Understand the greeting customs of the country you're dealing with to make a positive first impression.

Use of names/titles: Some cultures emphasise using titles and surnames, while others may be more informal. Ensure you’re addressing individuals appropriately based on their culture.

Punctuality: Time perception varies globally. While being late is considered rude in countries like Germany, flexible time is more acceptable in countries like Brazil. However, as a general rule, always be punctual. Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands and South Korea have the reputation for being the most punctual nations in the world. Conducting any business dealings here would mean always respecting people’s time. 

Business card handling: In many Asian countries, like Japan, the business card is important and should be handed and received with both hands. Your care and attention to someone’s business card can reflect your respect for them.

Few Business Etiquettes in India

India, with its rich history and diverse culture, has its own set of business etiquette. If you are expanding in India for its robust economy and market potential, you also need to consider the diversity and business etiquette of the people here. 

Some noteworthy business etiquette include:

  1. Greeting: The traditional Indian greeting is the 'Namaste' – palms together with a slight bow. This gesture is a sign of respect.
  2. Meetings: Engaging in small talk is customary before diving into business discussions. This helps in establishing rapport.
  3. Dress Code: Business attire is generally formal. Men usually wear suits, and women wear suits or sarees. However, it's essential to dress modestly, with women avoiding low-cut tops or short skirts.
  4. Punctuality: While being on time is appreciated, be prepared for meetings to start and end later than scheduled. Flexibility and patience are essential.
  5. Hierarchy: Respect for hierarchy is deeply ingrained in Indian culture. Recognising and addressing senior members appropriately is crucial, often with titles like "Sir" or "Madam."
  6. Building Relationships: Personal relationships are highly valued in India. It's common to engage in small talk before delving into business matters. Topics like family, cricket, or Indian cuisine can serve as good icebreakers.
  7. Avoiding Direct Refusal: Directly saying "no" is often avoided as it can be seen as rude. Instead, ambiguous answers like "we will see" or "possibly" might be used. It's essential to read between the lines and gauge the actual intent.

Partner with Rapid to Simplify Expansion

Understanding and integrating international business etiquette is more than just a formality; it's a pivotal aspect of global business success. 

Recognising why etiquette is important in business paves the way for stronger global partnerships, more significant opportunities and a broadened world perspective. 

However, navigating the accepted norms and expectations can be difficult with the differing cultures. With the support of a local employer of record like Rapid, this challenge is considerably reduced.

Rapid has deep expertise in the Indian market, which can help you expand your company or establish your subsidiary in the country. Their experts simplify the entire process with seamless EOR solutions. The platform covers everything, from crafting employment contracts to handling global payroll, benefits and leave management.

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