Mastering the Global Meet and Greet

by Wendy Jones
Are you ready to lead a trade mission of business executives from your state to the Paris Air Show or host a business delegation from the United Arab Emirates in your district? Will you be the leader that connects your stakeholders—and sister cities—with trade opportunities, cultural exchanges and international collaboration?
The work of state government officials today often stretches beyond national borders. Having won the trust and support of constituents at home, policymakers often must take time to elevate global skills to become more competent at building cross-cultural relationships.
State leaders must be able to navigate a dynamic global environment.
With this growing reality in mind, following are 10 global protocol tips to consider. Each tip, and many more, kept me ahead of the curve during my career as a corporate executive working with international customers, dignitaries, government officials and senior leadership on a high profile stage. 
  1. Make a flawless first impression. First impressions happen within seconds and your appearance can influence someone’s initial opinion of your personality, competence and capability. Project confidence. Tailor clothes to flatter your body type. Dress appropriately for the culture and climate. Remember that dark colors evoke power. Grooming and accessories—hair, nails, watch, shoes, briefcase and even pens—all can be deal killers if not properly addressed.
  2. Have a good, firm handshake. This ultimate international greeting speaks volumes about you. Two smooth pumps from the elbow. Some individuals from the Middle East may place their hand across their chest to signify they do not choose to shake hands. In Japan, a slight bow is often appropriate in lieu of, or in addition to, a handshake. Both behaviors are culturally appropriate.
  3. Maintain good eye contact. In the United States, eye contact can be more intense than in some Asian cultures. Be mindful not to intimidate with the intensity of your gaze.
  4. Learn a few words in their language. Hello. Thank you. Just a few basic words demonstrates respect and can speak volumes about your commitment to engage in a quality way.
  5. Admire others’ cultures and be humble about your own.  Learn about the country, culture, holidays and politics of those you are engaging. Demonstrate a familiarity with their regular work days and business hours. In many Middle Eastern regions, the work week typically runs from Sunday to Thursday. Long lunch hours may be expected in many European, Latin American and African countries. Be flexible—know that a meeting set for a certain time doesn’t always mean it will start precisely at that time. Always, always remain respectful.
  6. Avoid jokes. Humor often doesn’t translate well. 
  7. Listen more than you speak. Use your ears and mouth in proportion to which they were given to you. Listen for what is not said; it often is just as important as what is spoken.
  8. Always use good table manners. Ultimately, most business dealings involve sharing a meal. Polite, proper table manners can be an indicator of your business mannerisms. Be comfortable with the place setting, be a gracious guest and hospitable host. Learn more than the American style of dining. Become comfortable with the continental and Asian styles of dining, which are common throughout much of the world.
  9. Do your homework before presenting a gift. Don’t find out too late that a clock for your Chinese customer signifies the end of the relationship or death, or that a bouquet of red roses for the wife of your French business partner—when invited to his home for dinner—sends unwanted amorous signals. Be aware that the Japanese take great pride in wrapping gifts beautifully and compliment them for such efforts.
  10. Be mindful of your cultural style. Americans can be viewed as loud and impatient. Americans generally work independently and are more task focused than people in other cultures who value working in teams and expect that business comes after relationships have developed. Appreciate and work with the different cultural styles, and shift your style as appropriate. Don’t expect others to adapt to your cultural style.
 
There are many resources available to assist your global journey. Ask for help.  Look for answers. Dig deeper. Become an informed leader who can connect stakeholders with the trade opportunities, cultural exchanges and international collaboration necessary to prosper in today’s fast-paced global environment. People and businesses that engage in new—and profitable—international opportunities will thank you.
Learn more strategies to improve cross-cultural communications during the Found in Translation: Global Protocol for Foreign Delegations session, 10 a.m. CST, Friday, Dec. 11, at the 2015 CSG National Conference in Nashville, Tenn.
About the author: Wendy Jones formed Capital Protocol following a career as an executive with The Boeing Company. Wendy now provides consulting and training opportunities for corporate, government and diplomatic clients designed to enhance global business relationships and successfully manage high profile events.
 

 

 

 

 

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