- Posted by Graham Dockrill
- On September 20, 2018
- 0 Comments
- advice, attire, business, etiquette, meetings, overseas markets, sales, strategy, Texas, United Kingdom, USA
Every culture has it’s subtle nuances and peculiarities. Citrus Tree Consulting works with companies and their customers throughout the world in many cultures and locations.
Business etiquette is an integral part of business culture. It encompasses the accepted code of thoughtful behaviour in various societies. Being aware of the prescriptive elements of culture can help you understand expectations, as well as avoid doing or saying the wrong things during a business encounter.
Singapore is a multi-ethnic society comprising Chinese, Malay, Indian and Eurasian communities. According to Singapore’s Department of Statistics, by mid-2012 there was a total population of 5.3 million people. It is estimated that 40 per cent of the total population are foreigners, so there may be more than two million expats in Singapore.
In most cases, one will encounter Singaporean Chinese as business counterparts since they constitute most of the population. Business greetings are usually formal and most commonly involves a handshake and a slight bow. When exchanging business cards one should use both hands with the card turned towards the receiver.
Mark Allport, an expat New Zealander and founder of world-leading food and beverage brand agency Innovation Kitchen had this to say:
“One important thing I’ve learnt is when beginning a business meeting or social occasion, I should always shake hands with each individual present, both when arriving and when leaving, and I do so in a firm manner. Additionally, many people in Singapore will bow slightly when shaking hands, making it appropriate to give a small bow in return. As a general rule, I avoid touching a person’s head, or their child’s head, as it is considered sacred. Secondly, I work across Asia and the USA, being punctual in many countries is an important part of corporate culture, but in Singapore punctuality is taken to an even higher level and being on time to meetings or notifying others of any expected delay is key and vitality important.”
Making a meal of it
In the United Kingdom a pint at lunchtime at the local pub or drinks in the evening are a common forum in which to negotiate business deals, whilst in Denmark it’s lunch. In Spain, an evening dinner with a client will be a late affair. Restaurants will not open until at least 8:30pm which is considered early – plan to eat no earlier than 9:30pm!
Even if the Danes do tend to get straight down to business in meetings, it’s still appropriate to start the meeting with about ten minutes of informal conversation. Both the Danes and the Dutch see humour as an essential element of everyday life, and to many Danes humour comes with irony. This may be difficult for some foreigners to appreciate but New Zealanders and Australians relate to this dry sense of humour with equally robust banter. To maintain credibility, actions must be followed up and completed within the agreed timeframes.
In the United States, business attire differs between regions, so make sure to double check before you go. A general rule is that East tends to be more formal than West. New York City is formal and you will be expected to wear a suit in professional industries and meetings. While not as formal as the UK, where a three-piece suit is common, smart business attire is expected. The West Coast is more laid back and I have had customers attend meetings in shorts and sneakers.
Texas is less formal than NYC; while a suit is not generally required, a good pair of chinos and a button-down shirt are acceptable. Business professionals may arrive to meetings in cowboy boots or well tailored blue jeans and a hat!
That said, business suit and tie are appropriate in all major cities. Wear dark coloured business suits in classic colours of grey and navy. For an important formal meeting, choose a white dress shirt. For less formal meeting a light blue shirt will still give you a conservative appearance.
Mind the gaff
The Texan economy is the second largest in the US with a GDP of 1.6 trillion US dollars. With over ten per cent of the thousand largest US companies located there, it’s diverse, huge and complex. Texas still has a booming oil industry and wide scale manufacturing means big business for companies both nationally and internationally.
One New Zealand company making significant in-roads in Houston is visitor management software company, Who’s on Location. Former Chief Operating Officer Victoria Armstrong and her team provide a simple way to manage people (visitors, contractors, and employees) signing into and out of sites. Victoria comments:
“The size of the Texan economy and the access to clients and capital meant that setting up an office in Houston was a priority for us. However, adjusting to Texan culture can be tricky. Their brand of Southern Hospitality and Texas-sized state pride may seem unfamiliar or overwhelming at first.”
It’s important to understand that each city and region boasts its own unique culture and traditions. For example, the Texan capital city of Austin is considered the most liberal and free-spirited of all the Texan cities, whilst Houston is famous for its sprawling metropolis and trade-driven economy.
Good old southern hospitality is alive and well in Texas. From holding the door for elders and letting women enter an open door first, to friendly “hello”s on the street, Texans mind their manners. Traditional forms of etiquette such as offering cool refreshments to visiting guests, and using ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’ as familiar forms of address are still common.
Texas is one of the most patriotic states I’ve worked in. Texans are proud of their state and as the saying goes, “Don’t mess with Texas!” Cultural traditions such as barbeque, rodeo, country music, and flying the state flag are beloved parts of the Texan identity. While polite questions are welcome, cultural critiques will be met with a cold shoulder. Keep comments curious and friendly, and ask about novel traditions and cultural norms.
Don’t enter the minefield
America was founded on the work ethic that good, honest, hard work is rewarded. Because of this work ethic, time is money and punctuality is highly regarded, so a quick call can save the day when traffic in a major city causes unexpected delays.
In general, social conversations in the US are light. There is a standard format for small talk. People ask brief questions and expect brief answers. Some americans become uncomfortable when a person talks for too long in social situations.
As mentioned in a previous blog post I would strongly discourage discussing politics. This is a polarising and confrontational topic that can win or lose a client based on your political position. Specifically, Texas is home to a vast range of political and social views, so it’s best to keep the conversation away from controversial topics like politics and religion. Mentioning controversies concerning the second amendment, current or former presidents, and or succession will cause awkwardness for you and your guest.
One important social etiquette to understand (and one I’m guilty of due to having a slight hearing impairment), is that speaking loudly on the phone is considered rude, even when outside. Only speak as loudly as you need to for the other person to hear you.
Lastly, eye contact is considered a respectful behaviour, especially whilst greeting someone and shaking their hand. It’s important to remember that business is not about businesses working with businesses, its ultimately about people connecting with people. But when thinking about business, many choose to collaborate with, work for, or buy from someone who has high standards of professional business behaviour. Making an effort to learn about the cultural etiquette of one’s business counterparts, can therefore make all the difference in the success of your business.
Graham Dockrill is a New Zealand born entrepreneur and thought leader who works with businesses such as Who’s On Location to align strategy and sales in the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe. Using his significant strategic business skills, Graham supports New Zealand and Australian businesses wanting to grow in off-shore markets.