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International protocol is essential tool for global businesspeople

 By Cynthia Grosso

In today’s international business arena, your professional presentation skills and being aware of international protocol may be even more important than your knowledge about your product. Protocol is a recognized system of international courtesy. Those who do global business successfully are internationally informed business persons.

Studies show that less than 30% of U.S. business persons sent abroad can be expected to succeed. A large contributor to this significant failure rate is a lack of etiquette intelligence. Studies show that taking the time and making the effort to understand the protocol of doing business in other countries, will not only give you an edge over your competitors, but can save your company tens of thousands of dollars. 

The first step in learning international protocol is to study as much as you can about your target country and culture before departing. This is commonly referred to as pre-meeting strategy. 

Here are 9 tips for establishing pre-meeting strategies:

-Know what language is spoken and try to learn a few key words - Words such as  Yes, no, thank you, hello, goodbye, I do not understand, how much, how do I get to….  Not only will this help you to be understood, but your host will appreciate the gesture.

-Know how to deal with interpreters – if there is an interpreter; place the interpreter between you and the person being interpreted.  Treat the interpreter with the utmost courtesy. Look at the party who is being addressed, not the interpreter.

- Know the religion of the people with which you will be dealing.  Knowing whether they are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, etc, will be important in knowing when to do business.  Different religions have different work weeks. In many parts of the world the work week is not Monday through Friday. There are religions that stop several times a day to pray….right in the middle of a meeting.  How do you handle this?

There are also religious cultures that do not allow casual touching or handshaking.  Understanding a little about these nuances will be valuable in saving possible embarrassing situations. A person’s religion may also dictate what you will be eating and when.

- Know the geography.  This of course will encompass the weather, time zone and day light.  This is important information for helping with appropriate dress and also for travel arrangements…allowing ample time for travel and rest. Understanding these factors enables you to be fresh and ready for your meeting.

-Know the dress code of the business professionals in your target country.  The business dress code of many countries is not as casual as, and much more conservative than, in America.  Suites, white shirts, ties in solid more conservative colors, with good quality accessories are generally the rule.

- Know gift giving etiquette. There are certain countries… for example, Japan being on the top level of gift giving, where it is necessary to give a gift.  Usually a gift made in the United States is best.  For example: a business man traveling from Charleston may want to bring a coffee table book about Charleston. There are also rules as to when and how the gift is to be given.  Different countries have different gift giving etiquette rules.  You do not want to be caught empty handed.

- Know the currency used and tipping etiquette.  There are a few countries in the world where tipping is not allowed.  To avoid embarrassment, understand who gets tipped and how much is correct.

- Know a brief history of the country you are visiting to help you understand a little about the government, social structure, role of women and the role of the family.  In several parts of the world, you do not talk about your family or ask about theirs.  In many countries you do not discuss the government.  You never want to compare their country to the United States.  Just respect their country and enjoy your visit.

- Know a little about cross cultural awareness such as liters vs. gallons, centimeters vs. inches, and the way dates are written.  In most parts of the word, The First of August is written 1.8.02.  The time is often posted in what we consider military time.

In order for you to be as prepared as possible, ask for a schedule of events from your overseas counterpart.  This will help you have the correct apparel, gifts when necessary and give you time to rehearse names.  By the way, pronouncing someone’s name correctly in international business is very important.

Understanding international protocol and respecting others by using it, helps to build a global span bridge to connect us with one another;  Reminding us of the words that H.G. Wells believed, “Our true nationality is mankind”.


Source:  Article Published in the South Carolina Business Journal

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