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"It is not to culture that one must adapt, but to culture as manifest and encountered in the behavior of individual foreigners." - Craig Storti

Meetings, conventions and trade shows account for almost half of all business travel according to a Survey of Business Travelers by the U.S. Travel Data Center. With the globalization of business opportunities, these meetings increasingly are held abroad. But, the moment you or your attendees board an international flight, the rules of the game change. What flies in Peoria won't get you where you want to go in Paris, Prague or Pago-Pago. There is a great deal of truth to that old adage, "When in Rome...".

To interact successfully with associates in another country, it's helpful to adjust to the communication style of the other person's culture. It can take months or years to feel completely comfortable and conversant in that culture, but it's possible with just a little research to find the basic information that will eradicate the major faux pas and grievances. FIRST GET GOOD is a simple anagram of the eight aspects of international etiquette and the four guiding principles of international interactions to help you prepare for an international business trip.

f.gif (375 bytes) Forming Relationships: Only in the Germanic countries will the people be as eager to get down to business as in the United States of America. Almost anywhere else in the world, but especially in Asian and Latin countries, it's important to first get to know the person with whom you're dealing to build a bond of trust. Three F's of business in Asian cultures are family, friends and favors. If you're not part of an extended Asian family or if you don't have close Asian chums from your school days, find the time to develop a friendship with a well connected intermediary. Relationships, once formed, are long lasting bonds of loyalty that must be respected.

i.gif (301 bytes) Information and Communication: If you have no idea how someone from another culture communicates either verbally or non-verbally, you can't possibly negotiate effectively. All Asian cultures put a great deal of emphasis on the concept of face. In order to save face, theirs or yours, you will seldom get a direct answer, especially if it's "no". You will hear "yes" a great deal, but that doesn't signify agreement, only acknowledgement. In the homogenous Japanese culture, emphasis is placed on non-verbal communication, "speaking from the belly", to understand someone. However, it's difficult to heed non-verbal clues when you're uncomfortable with silence.

When you do speak, your style may be the staccato of a tabloid headline, while the other person's may be that of a flowery, turgid historical romance. Even if the pace and style are in sync, the amount of information conveyed in the choice of words might be totally at odds. Americans are very direct in their speech and don't beat around the bush with implied meanings and innuendos. As a result, Latins often consider us uncultured and lacking in refinement.

Nowhere is this more evident than in our ability to toot our own horns. In group-oriented cultures such as the Japanese, "the protruding nail gets hammered down" according to an old saying. Not only is self-effacement practiced, singling someone out with a compliment can be considered very offensive!

Pay heed to your volume, vocal quality, tone of voice and posture because they indicate good breeding. Learn to listen and remember that, when in doubt, modesty is the best policy.

r.gif (438 bytes) Rank and Status: One of the first indicators of rank and status in any culture is appearance. In most societies, people dress to maintain their public image and their status rather than to be comfortable or to follow the dictates of fashion. Your dress signals your self-respect, your respect for the organization you represent and, most important, respect for the person with whom you are negotiating. When in doubt err on the side of conservatism and formality.

Err, too, on the side of age and the masculine gender when in doubt about the rank within a group. But, don't make the mistake of snubbing the younger members. In the group oriented cultures of Asia, and especially Japan, decision making is by consensus from the bottom up. In the Latin group oriented cultures, decision making is usually a very steep top down process.

Greetings and introductions are a clear indicator of status, even in our culture when executed properly. Who acknowledges whom, how deeply one bows, and how long speaks volumes. If you haven't mastered the intricacies, stick to the handshake, but don't expect to get the solid American type. It's gauche in France to pump more than once from the elbow. Remember, too, to have plenty of bilingual business cards on hand wherever you go.

One of the most confusing aspects of meeting people with foreign names is not knowing which is which. Learn which cultures place the surname first so you won't be addressing someone with the Chinese equivalent of "Mr. Bob". Never call someone by the first name unless you are specifically asked to do so; virtually nowhere else are people as informal in the manner of address as in the United States. Don't forget the honorifics or titles that go with the name. They are usually a point of pride. In Germany you might use a whole string of titles to address someone, and in Italy it's an honor to be addressed by your profession.

s.gif (357 bytes) Space: Space is one of those seemingly inconsequential aspects of human interaction that can have major consequences elsewhere. The American personal bubble of space is much greater than that of an Arab or a Russian, but much smaller than that of a Briton. Infringing upon another's personal space or inadvertently backing away when they enter your bubble can send unintended negative messages. Touching someone - a hand on the forearm, an arm around the shoulder, a pat on the back - is one of the easiest ways to violate personal space. When touch crosses gender lines, the consequences can be dire! Keep your hands to yourself.

Space in the business environment can also impact upon negotiations. Many Europeans don't understand the American need for ample space, and all aspects of the space booked for an event should be clearly spelled out, never overlooking any needed storage facilities. More important, the way offices are set up in other countries affects information flow. A great many more people than you can imagine may be privy to your business.

t.gif (368 bytes) Time: Differing attitudes toward time are the major source of annoyance in international interactions, yet few people give it much thought. How far in advance appointments and bookings must be scheduled, and to what extent punctuality is stressed or ignored are all important considerations to remaining in control during negotiations. It can be totally unnerving when a task-oriented, linear American, who considers time a commodity to be managed, is confronted with a relationship-oriented Arab, Asian, or Latin, who considers time as flowing and flexible, beyond human control, and to be accepted whatever happens and regardless of who may interrupt and how frequently the interruptions may occur. It pays to develop some flexibility to avoid angry outbursts.

g.gif (377 bytes) Gift Giving: When going abroad, especially on business, Americans worry more about gift giving than any other aspect of international etiquette. Except in Japan, it is seldom as important as Americans think it might be. That doesn't mean you can overlook your homework. Giving too much and too often can be just as offensive. Always consider the basic questions: To whom must you give gifts, what should you give or avoid giving, when should you give it, and how should it be presented? The answers vary from culture to culture, so be prepared.

e.gif (381 bytes) Entertaining: As a foreigner, you can expect to be entertained, often quite lavishly. If you're dealing with the Chinese, you are also expected to honor them by reciprocating before the end of your trip. In other cultures the reciprocity may not be as blatant, but may be present none the less. Find the answers to the basic questions involving who, where, when, how and how much!

While all this entertaining is going on, never forget that table manners count everywhere; yours, however, may not be theirs. Eating with chopsticks or with your hands can be the least of it. Slurping, burping and drinking from each other's glass may be just a few of the acceptable behaviors.

Entertainment is seldom complete without toasts to honor guests and host. A few well-chosen words can get you further than hours over the bargaining table, so give thought to some appropriate toasts beforehand.

t.gif (368 bytes) Taboos and Sensitivities: Taboos and Sensitivities vary from culture to culture, sometimes without apparent rhyme or reason. It's simply necessary to learn beforehand what they are. The most common taboos and sensitivities stem from politics, religion, ethnicity, geography, gender or misunderstood humor. Jokes don't travel or translate well, so as a rule, leave home without them, and you'll be less likely to offend.

g.gif (377 bytes) The New Golden Rule: The first guiding principle of international interactions is the new Golden Rule, "Do unto others as they would have you do unto them." That sounds simple, but the effect can be profound because you no longer set yourself up as the arbiter of acceptable behavior for someone from another culture.


o.gif (1617 bytes)Offense Given and Offense Taken: The second and third guiding principles are opposite sides of the same coin. Do your homework so you don't give unintentional offense through ignorance of the culture. More important, don't udermine yourself by taking offense when none was intended, when the other persons were simply behaving according to their cultural norms.


d.gif (424 bytes)Difference: Every culture is different; that's the fourth guiding principle. Even when certain cultural traits are similar, the overall combination of behaviors and beliefs is unique to each culture. You can't expect to be successful in the international arena by winging it or behaving the same way you do on your home turf. Meetings in international settings are ideal opportunities to broaden your horizons and those of the attendees. But don't depend on others to do their own homework. Share the results of your research and enhance the success of your next event by preparing participants to "act local". Include handouts, workshops, speeches or interactive sessions to enlighten and entertain all the attendees about the culture they're visiting, and your meeting will be truly global!

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