Globalisation has made cross-border business deals more common than ever. But many are jeopardised because companies are unaware of the customs, culture and protocol of countries other than their own.
It happens every day. Negotiations have been progressing and both sides seem to be nearing a fruitful conclusion when suddenly the deal goes horribly wrong. Perhaps impatience to close the agreement was the trigger.
Maybe it was taking a business card and not looking at it first. Whatever the reason, the deal has fallen through and someone will have to explain why to the boss.
Neil Payne, managing director of Kwintessential – a leading cross-cultural communications consultancy that offers training to those doing business abroad – says knowing the right etiquette and customs are key when doing international business. “When doing business abroad it is important to understand the local customs because what works in one country might not be applicable in another.
Understanding how local people think and their business practices can allow one to engage better and faster with them,” he says.And etiquette comprises more than good manners – it is about overall behaviour and attitude, say experts.
“Cultural awareness helps prevent problems within business, whether this is poor communication, not understanding how negotiations work, what are the dos and don’ts or sensitive political issues,” explains Payne.
“Although eating with the wrong utensil or shaking a hand too firmly may not lead to lost deals, they can have detrimental consequences.”
He says when doing business in the Gulf people like to “get to know one another” first. Americans have a habit of jumping straight into business, whereas Arabs like a bit of “getting to know you” time,” he tells Emirates Business.
Cultural awareness training is now being recognised by businesses as a key training requirement for international staff and many companies such as Kwintessential produce guides.
Khalid Essa Buhumaid, general manager of corporate relations and international affairs at Dubal, says: “Doing business in international markets requires full understanding of the customs and the culture of your customers.”
In a recent study conducted by etiquette consultants Eticon Inc, 80 per cent of respondents believed rudeness was on the increase during business deals. And 58 per cent of those surveyed said they would take their business elsewhere if they encountered it. “Rude behaviour ruins business,” says Ann Humphries, Eticon president.
Jacqueline Whitmore, author of Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work, says manners are of the utmost importance.
“If your manners are poor, you will be judged unfavourably. If you say or do the wrong thing you could possibly sabotage a business relationship. Treat others the way they would like to be treated, with kindness, patience and respect and you will create a lasting impression, which in the end is good for business.”
Cultural awareness is the key to success