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Friday, September 13, 2013

Business practices around the world: Tips for the global executive

By Marty Matinger

Many companies like to expand their reach and become a global organization. These companies either partner with international businesses or start their own branch in foreign countries in order to tap a larger market.

Local customs are important when doing business in foreign countries
Global commerce provides more opportunities for firms
Thanks to the Internet, becoming a global business is easier than ever. Customers from all over the world are now able to learn more about businesses, their products and services, and they can even make purchases from halfway around the world.

But even though the Internet allows customers to purchase from foreign countries, many companies like to bring their businesses to other countries for a real presence and to reap the business ownership benefits.

But just because a company is successful in one country doesn’t mean it will be successful in another. The rules, regulations and practices of businesses vary from country to country, and before a foreign company decides to try and embark on another country, it’s important to first educate yourself on the common business practices in the desired country. After all, the last thing you want to do is bring your company to the new country with no idea as to how to run it. If you want to run a successful global business, the following are a few key things to keep in mind regarding different business practices from around the world.

Eye contact

Americans will look into the eyes of other people, but they don’t keep their focus on the individual. Some may look at reports or papers sitting in front of them, and others will look around the person’s body. While making eye contact is important in the American business world, it’s not something that is done intently. On the other hand, French business people believe strongly in keeping eye contact at all times. Their gaze is so intense on the person they’re meeting with that it can often be a distraction or intimidating to the other individual. If you are doing business in France or with French partners, be prepared to keep intense eye contact for the duration of your meeting.


Posture is another important practice that varies from country to country. In the United States, many men and women tend to cross their legs while sitting down. This is perfectly acceptable, and in America, doesn’t cause a problem. However, sitting with your legs crossed will insult your Middle Eastern business partners or consumers if the sole of your foot is showing. Displaying the sole of a foot is considered an insult, so be sure that both feet are planted against the ground when doing business with those in the Middle East.


In most cultures, being late to a business appointment is considered rude, so it’s always important to ensure you are at your business meetings on time. This will allow you and your business partner to hold your meeting in a timely fashion while showing respect for one another. Unfortunately, business people in Brazil don’t care too much about punctuality, and it’s not uncommon for their business partners to wait long periods of time before the meeting begins. If you are doing business with a partner in Brazil, keep this in mind when it comes time to schedule your meetings and appointments.


Every culture has its own proper form of greeting. In America, it’s common to shake right hands with the person you’re meeting. In France, shaking hands is also common, but they may even add a kiss on the cheek. In Japan, it’s most common to bow to one another. Saudi men tend to shake hands and place their opposite hand on the shoulder of their acquaintance. Knowing the correct greeting is important to ensure you don’t insult a foreign business partner.


A common gesture in your home country may not be acceptable in other countries, so it’s important to educate yourself on insulting gestures. For example, in the US, you may put your hand out (palm facing out) to represent “no thank you” to an individual offering you something, but if you do that in Greece, you’re insulting your acquaintance. In the US, you may give a thumbs up sign to show that you agree, but if you do so in South America, West Africa or the Middle East, you’ll be insulting everyone. In the US, it’s common to finish your plate, but if you do so in China, Thailand or the Philippines, your hosts will assume they did not provide you with enough food to fulfill your needs.

When you’re interacting with foreign businesses, be sure to educate yourself on the proper way to behave in a business setting. Be aware of the business practices in other countries, and be aware of how the US does things differently. Educating yourself will keep you from making a huge mistake that could cost you your global business.

About the author: Marty Matinger is a corporate recruiter for Sellpan. Marty travels frequently and loves to share what he has learned as he is exposed to a variety of cultural facets.

* Image license: sqback; RGBStock, royalty free.

1 comment:

  1. Business has become more accessible today because of the internet.