Business Etiquettes

Written by Barbara Matic

During the On-Site Seminar 2019, over 30 companies across Asia and the Americas were visited by the four projects. As you might imagine handshakes are not as common everywhere as here in Europe and neither are business practices. In order to prepare you for your future international career we have summarized our main learnings and insights gained from the four international student projects.

connectUS participating in New York

When entering a company in the United States, the connectUS team was always warmly welcomed with a friendly smile and a “how are you today?”. Every meeting usually starts with a small talk about the weather, sports or in our case about the arrival in the United States. Nevertheless, since time is considered money the meeting quickly gets straight to the point and an interesting and well-structured presentation gives us an introduction to a topic. In return for their professional preparation also interaction, participation and concentration are expected from the participants. And of course, there was always enough time for Q&A sessions and networking. Networking is highly valued and seen as central to success and progress in your career. In general, Americans enjoy learning from each other and value advice from experts which is also a huge reason why mentoring programs are existent and important in business. When comparing business practices to Swiss culture, we could draw some inspirations from the American openness and friendliness towards others.

Focus India learning about business practices in India

India’s culture is highly heterogeneous and thus there are vast differences between regions. Hence, these observations from the Focus India project are largely simplified and only provide a glimpse of the Indian culture.  

Common business etiquettes to be sensitive about are:

  • A hand shake or namaste greeting and exchanging business cards is a standard greeting procedure when meeting people the first time.
  • The personal distance while talking is much closer than it is for us. Be aware of this and adjust if you feel uncomfortable.
  • Relationship management is highly important for building a trust base. For instance, Indians generally enjoy doing social activities after work.
  • Indians tend to never say no. This can be explained by fact of Indian’s attitude of “it will work”. Hence, it is crucial to have the ability to read between the lines, especially in contract negotiations, and to be patient in any matter. 
  • Last but not least, Indians generally have quite  a short-term orientation and prefer to confirm at short notice, given their ability of high adaptation. It can be especially challenging for us Swiss because we tend to be long-term planners. Therefore, be ready to remind often, to have a polite nature and to be utmost patient. In most cases, it all works out – as it did throughout our entire On-Site Seminar.
exploreASEAN at the Embassy of Switzerland in Indonesia

Business etiquettes in ASEAN region should be intensively considered in the perspective of understanding beliefs and cultural habits of each country in the region, and not only when it comes to the exchange of business cards. In all three countries exploreASEAN visited during the On-Site Seminar, Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam, hierarchy, especially based on positions, is very important in business decision making. This is completely different from Switzerland in particular and Western countries in general where the hierarchies among people tend to be gradually blurred.

Besides, while having company visits and the Swiss embassy visit in these countries, we recognized one of the remarkable points in the business etiquettes here is that business relationships are mainly based on trust and familiarity. Although creating business relationships can take longer time than sealing a quick deal, it is considered as a key criterion for doing successful business in ASEAN.

Insight China learning about Guanxi in Lanzhou

This year, Insight China had the honor to visit ChemChina for the first time. During the Q&A session at the office of ChemChina in Beijing, we discussed the challenges European workers face in China and vise versa. The people at ChemChina mentioned that the Europeans tend to think very logical to solve problems, and that the Chinese people have a broader perspective on solving problems. We also learned that the Chinese think quite a lot about ideas and solutions, but are very cautious when it comes to expressing their opinion. For a successful outcome in business meetings between Europeans and Chinese, it’s important to ask further targeted questions to the Chinese business people.  

Guanxi is an important part of the business culture in China. Guanxi stands for relationships or networks, that may result in the exchanges of favors. Good Guanxi can be crucial to opening doors otherwise closed. The drinking culture in China plays an important role in cultivating Guanxi. In Lanzhou, we were invited to a banquet, where we had many rounds of toasting and saying the phrase “Gān Bēi” (干杯), which literally means “drain your glass dry”. For many years, important business transactions were closed around a banquet table between endless glasses of alcohol. In this sense, Gan Bei – to our successful On-Site Seminar in China!