Hello SOTGC community,
Are you polite? In your home country, it’s easy to be polite. When you meet somebody for the first time, you know that it’s polite to shake hands and look him or her directly in the eye when they talk. But when you travel internationally, the rules often change. Do you shake hands or bow, or both? Do you address the other person using their first name or their last name? Do you maintain direct eye contact or is it considered too dominating?
International travel and dealing with different cultures can be confusing. Today I want to help you avoid 5 mistakes that international business travellers often make.
- Wearing clothing that’s too revealing
I’m not talking simply about cleavage. I think most SOTGC readers already know that the more cleavage you show, the less professional you appear. I’m talking about meeting the expectations of professional dress in another culture. For example, in some Asian cultures, it’s not professional to show your bare arms in a shift dress no matter how humid it is. My advice to you: assume the most conservative. As a rule of thumb, for business in most Asian and European countries, you’ll be received more seriously if you wear a traditional navy/black suit, stockings, closed toed shoes and a business shirt. Avoid tight clothing, open-toed shoes and shoes without stockings or stocking socks unless you’re sure it will be an acceptable form of dress at your international destination.
- Using a handshake that is too firm
In the US (and Australia), we’re taught that a firm handshake with direct eye contact is how you project confidence and power in business. And as women, we take particular care to convey this exact image when we greet somebody for the first time. But how do you think somebody from China would interpret this type of handshake when they’re more accustomed to a gentler handshake with little eye contact?
- Not realising the punctuality gap
What you consider to be “on time” can often be late or super early, depending on what country you’re going to. The Swiss are known to be exact with their time, like the Germans and even the British. But from my experience living in France, “on time” can often mean 15 minutes late. There has been more than one occasion when I’ve been thanked for arriving for a 2:00 business meeting at, believe it or not, 2:15!
- Assuming everybody speaks English
They don’t. Even though English is considered to be the global language and it’s spoken widely in international business, you have to understand that it is NOT the native language of many countries you’ll visit. That doesn’t mean you have to instantly become a linguist. It simply means that when you speak English, you’ve got to slow down, make sure you enunciate your words correctly, and refrain from using slang or humour. You’ll also gain a lot of respect if you learn a few words of the native language.
- Not reading the indirect messages you get
Quite often, more information is communicated via non-verbal cues than verbal, particularly if you visit many Asian countries. In Japan, “Yes” can often mean “I understand what you’re saying” (not “Yes, I will do what you’re asking”), and “No” can often be expressed by a hissing sound (not an actual “No”). When you do business internationally, you have to be extra sensitive to these non-verbal cues. You have to become an expert at body language, facial expressions and even silence and boost what I like to call, your cultural intelligence.
If you would like to boost your cultural intelligence to advance your career, I’d love for you to contact me with any questions you may have (firstname.lastname@example.org). Your questions may even become a topic in a future post.
Kara Ronin is the founder of Executive Impressions. She offers professional women a wealth of practical advice and inspirational tips to move them toward an international mindset and an amazing corporate career. Access your free 7 Step Networking Roadmap at www.executive-impressions.com/blog.
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