The growing tendency of deploying employees abroad, as well as the global interconnectedness among firms, forces thousands of Austrian and Swiss workers to travel abroad for brief or extended periods of time every single year. As with any trip abroad, there are new customs, traditions, modes of behavior and communication standards to be observed.
If you interact with international business partners or head up an international team, it is important that you familiarize yourself with the various modes of behavior.
Technical and linguistic proficiency alone does not suffice
No matter where a professional assignment abroad takes you, being well prepared is essential to better understand the country, culture and its people. Between greeting someone and seeing them off, there are a myriad of social pitfalls challenging us, such as values standards of conduct, which can widely vary from country to country. The same goes for time, quality, hierarchies, respect, communication or etiquette, your own expectations can differ greatly from the reality of country-specific conduct norms.
The right greeting unlocks many doors
A cordial greeting is always essential. While your own greeting customs are familiar, you will encounter unfamiliar greeting rituals in many countries. Typically, it is normal to approach the host openly and amicably, no matter how detailed a country´s code of conduct seems. Dealing with unfamiliar situations in a calm and relaxed manner enables you to establish a solid contact. In contrast, intrusive and overbearing behavior can lead to misunderstandings. Openness, attentiveness and curiosity are helpful traits to unlock the proverbial door in any situation.
A guest among strangers
No matter the position abroad, you are always a guest. When speaking with foreign partners, it behooves you to conduct yourself in a collegial, direct, yet friendly manner. This helps you to discuss your position, the tasks and goals required to ensure the success of any given project. It is of little help and indeed oftentimes counter-productive to comment on or judge the politics, religion and society of the country you are in.
If you have been to Russia, for example, you have surely encountered the warm and enthusiastic joie de vivre. Mirroring the intensity of a typical Russian greeting and its firm handshake is the intensity found on the job itself. Russians can be a loud bunch at work, so it is not surprising that they often speak loudly and clearly about the job itself. In Russia, on-the-job performance is what counts.
Americans like to speak about success. If they can, they’ll flaunt it, too. In the job world, specialists are highly sought after. A friendly exchange of experience with a difference of opinion is commonplace.
Rules and customs differ in many Asian countries. While on holidays feasts abound, modesty and cordiality is typical throughout Asia, from India to China. It is especially important to not only familiarize yourself with the customs of your host country, but to accept them as well. Not talking about your feelings at work is just as essential as it is to be diligent on the job.
Not even in Europe is it the same everywhere. The French, for example, place a great deal of importance on friendly and open interaction, but are very casual when it comes to work and free time. Punctuality is not as important as it is in Austria or Switzerland. For the French, external appearances are more important—from fashion and fine food to classy social interaction. Greetings and goodbyes are typically warmer and a peck on the cheek is common practice for close acquaintances—which also applies to most Mediterranean countries in Europe and many regions in southeast Europe.
More and more countries have clients or suppliers abroad and must adjust to their international partners. In order to interact appropriately, efficiently and successfully in a global economy, internationally active employees must know the customs of any given country, in order to deal with the prevalent culture and to help tear down prejudice.