Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.
In everyday language, we use the term business culture or business etiquette to describe the way in which business individuals or group act in a business setting.
While cultural awareness is important for everyone, a woman in business often face various social or religious customs affecting females, and they often confront prejudices and stereotypes in many societies. Sharing from personal experience these cultural challenges are often experienced on business trips oversee.
Apart from managing my UK based multicultural teams, I was required to travel abroad more than usual in the last 12 months, which for me means, business trips to countries other than Poland or England.
In fact, I travelled from the UK to three countries with business recently including Switzerland, Romania and Ukraine.
Flying from London Luton to Bucharest, I visited Romania in February accompanied by my business partner, Neil. I was meeting with a global marketing business and Neil has had meetings scheduled with his partners.
Soon after I met my clients in the hotel lodge, it became obvious that before we enter the meeting room, I must change my approach and needed to call Neil to join me. His presence during the negotiations with the two male Romanian business counterparts was invaluable.
Lesson learnt from that situation was to research the background of the Romanian business partners I was meeting. Which would not only help me to establish their expertise and possible personalities but also will help to build rapport from the first meeting as well as be prepared for my male business partner to be fully involved.
I travelled to Switzerland in April, to meet our potential suppliers. Prior to my trip I was well aware of In German-speaking Switzerland, French-speaking and Italian-speaking areas and since I was visiting Zurich in northern Switzerland I have had all the appointments booked and confirmed allowing plenty of time in between to ensure I can arrive at least 10 minutes ahead of time and wait at the reception area, as being late would be considered very rude which I believe was greatly important, especially in the German-speaking areas.
In Zurich, I met my Swiss friend, Agata, for “Zmittag” (lunch) so that I was well culturally briefed for “Znacht” (the evening meal) with my potential suppliers later that day. Advice received from Agata summaries below:
Swiss business relationships vary between cantons. For example, German-speaking Swiss like to get straight down to business and dispense with niceties, whereas French and Italian-speaking Swiss allow for more small talk and preamble to business.
Be aware of your body posture ensuring you do not slouch or stretch in public and remember to control hand movements reducing them to zero – Agata knew I like to move hands and gesticulate a lot as I speak.
Agata also suggested that I let my Swiss colleagues pay for the meal since the Swiss are traditional and not only I was meeting a man but also, I was their guest. I also let her pay for my lunch as I was paying for the meals when she visited me in London.
In Switzerland, professionalism is paramount, even outside the workplace and although the hospitality and atmosphere outside business meetings were fantastic throughout the three days there, we were very much aware during lunches, dinners and even in the evening out at a bar that we are all still representing our companies.
In May, I took a flight from London Stanstead to Lublin in Poland where I met Alina, my Ukrainian guide – and from Lublin, we travel by bus for about two hours to Kovel in Ukraine.
I wanted to meet with Alina in Kovel, but my sister insisted that I met Alina in Poland talk to her at the bus stations and enter Ukraine with her. Thankfully, I took the advice and the support from someone local and trusted allowed me to get a much better feel for the country before entering, at the border and later in the hotel and during business meetings.
In some hierarchal cultures, like Ukrainian where the age dictates status younger women often have to prove credibility, for start, for example, highlighting any part of their backgrounds that allows local staff to trust their expertise.
The people we were meeting were all fluent in English, taxi drivers and waitresses spoke Russian. Being able to speak Russian and having Alina who took care of me during the two-day business trip, has helped me greatly in Ukraine. It was also important to have business cards in English and Russian clearly stating my education degrees and my title.
Observe and value diverse cultures like you observe and respect different personality types and apply these five principles for businesswoman crossing cultures:
Understand that you are a guest in a foreign country and demonstrate that you are prepared to wait patiently or arrive earlier, if necessary.
Especially when it comes to dress code, dressing more conservatively and observing local businesswoman and trends will help to blend in with the local business dress protocol.
Pre-book meetings and last minutes alternatives in case your meeting gets cancelled or rescheduled. Stay positive, focused on your business goals and make most of the time either by gaining new contacts, experience or winning business.
Whenever possible ask your employer or business partner to travel with you or ask for a trusted person for example your interpreters for full availability and support at the location.
Learn what you can from other business people who have been on business trips in places you are planning to visit.
In everyday business, I chose to adopt a positive attitude although often stressed I say to myself this will be an excellent opportunity to either close the deal and grow my business or gain experience and grow myself. Likewise, your positive approach will help you to establish and maintain a healthy relationship with other like-minded foreign business partners and achieve your business goals.
Be prepared and aware of cultural and language barriers, stay positive and be a great businesswoman crossing cultures and closing deals!
Founder and Managing Director of PAB Languages Centre Ltd. Iwona Lebiedowicz is passionate about business and personal growth with over fifteen years’ experience in senior leadership positions in public and private sector organisations leading large multinational teams and successfully managing large-scale change projects.