Business etiquette Across Cultures

Avoid putting your foot in when doing business with other cultures!

What is intercultural competence?

Does your corporate culture include intercultural communication?

What role does intercultural competence play in your company?

A good collaboration is based on trust and good communication among colleagues, employees, superiors and business partners.

In order to be able to understand and eventually embrace cultural differences, we need to look at HOW things may differ, such as the dress code, the behaviour in the business environment, which covers also the body language, gestures but also who to address first in a meeting or who to shake hands with if you do so, how much time you spend on small talk or the use of time in general.

Due to our cultural identities, the experiences we’ve made with other cultures and stories that we have heard, we have a certain “picture“ of people and cultures in our heads.

The “problem“ I personally see here is that we might have heard only one story and have had only one particular experience, so we assume that we KNOW the other person. Yes, there are certain traits and characteristics that are more likely to be noticed in a culture, but the fact is, we shouldn’t make the mistake to generalize, in any situation.

In our TRAINING we are looking at the following:

Intercultural communication is an interaction between people from different cultures.




Would you like to know more about other cultures?

  • Values & Beliefs
  • How to do business
  • Communication patterns
  • Taboos
  • Stereotypes & Prejudices
  • Manners & Dress Code


Hierarchy is important in Japan, age representsrank. Junior members stay rather quiet. However,they will go out drinking with you at night andconvey messages from their superiors, if e.g.these were not happy with your proposal. 

In decision-making, Japanese are moresubjective than objective, and consensus is veryimportant. Individuals may change their positionfor the sake of the group. 

Don’t be confrontational in your proposal, ratherbuild on points you agree on and choose apositive, persuasive approach. Expectations maynot be explained exactly.


Apologies are very important in Japan. Not onlyindividuals, also companies apologize formisconduct. Personal actions and behaviorreflect on the group. All behaviors are situation-bound and it is very important to avoidembarrassment. Japanese don’t show emotionsand live under pressure to conform. The elderlyare treated with great respect. Greet with ahandshake or -traditionally- a bow. The depth ofthe bow indicates the status of the relationship.


Gifts are very important in Japan. The ceremonyof exchange has more meaning than the giftitself, so the value may differ. Gifts may not beopened in front of you, or if opened, there will notbe big appreciation. This doesn’t mean aJapanese doesn’t like the gift. It is best to wrapyour present in Japan, in rice paper. Never useblack and white paper and never gift anything ineven numbers, especially not in fours.


Having a strong relationship (Guanxi) isimportant before a business deal is closed. Mianzi,giving face”, is gradually building guanxi. Chineseare patient. Be prepared for many negotiations.Generally, negotiations are led by seniormembers of the team. Do not exaggerate whatyou are able to deliver. Humility is an importantvalue in China, and your business partners mightinvestigate what you told them.


Never start the meal before your host does. Leavea small amount of food in your bowl – finishing itmight indicate your host didn’t provide enoughfood, leaving it full is considered rude as well. Donot pass food around the table. Serve yourselfwith your chopsticks – the end you didn’t put inyour mouth! 

Be aware of the importance of colours in China.Avoid white, this is the colour of death andfunerals.


When you were invited to a business banquet,you are expected to return the invitation. This is away of mianzi. When giving a present, hand itwith both hands to the senior member of thegroup. Gifts are not opened in front of the giver.Good gifts are anything local from your region orgourmet food or drink. However, don’t bring foodto a dinner invitation, it might indicate that thehost cannot provide for you. Be aware thattraditionally, Chinese will decline a present threetimes before accepting to not seem greedy.


Business is done in a fast-paced environment.The “time is money” concept is applied. Apersonal relationship is not required before, and abusiness deal can be concluded within the firstnegotiation. Relevant papers may be sent prior tothe meeting. People are approachable, it iscommon to be on first name basis. This is not tobe mistaken for intimacy, rather expression of thecultural norm of being down-to-earth andaccessible. The work ethic is very strong aspeople are measured by their achievements andrecognition is a great reward.


Americans are direct communicators. They talkenthusiastically, are persuasive and assertive,while not necessarily modest. Nuances are notalways caught due to the direct communicationstyle, but the people are polite. Gestures such asnodding and smiling are used, but Americansvalue personal space and will not appreciatephysical contact. Maintaining eye contact showshonesty and sincerity about what is being said.


Don’t take the informal, casual approach (firstname basis, smiles, pat on the back) as a lack ofseriousness. People may behave casual, but willtake business very seriously and try to negotiatethe best deal. Don’t be offended when Americansget straight to the point, this is not rude but, onthe contrary, an appreciation of your time (as”time is money”).

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