Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tip of the Day: How to Prevent Missteps Perceived by Your Hosts During International Meetings

Although most of us can do very little about the foreign policies of our governments, we can individually help change the “ugly foreigner” image that we all promote knowingly or unknowingly when interacting with representatives of foreign governments:

Such traits can negatively impact on foreigners for a multitude of explanations that include:

--  Being arrogant and boastful and insisting on "our way being the best way";

-- Insisting on speaking our native tongue, rather than interacting with simultaneous interpretation which saves "face for everyone";

--  Intolerance of the foreign culture, languages, and social mores of other nations;

-- Unwilling to speak a language that is "outside your comfort zone," because it is not perfect;

-- Being a bad representative of your government or your company in non-verbal ways; and;

-- Rather than gravitating to those who speak your native tongue, spend more time with your foreign hosts. It WILL pay off!

Consider the following:

1. Adapt to the local customs. Unfortunately, some foreigners are often impatient and always in a hurry—even when dining. In contrast, most people move more slowly and are frustrated with impatience. In Greece or France, for example, lunch or dinner can easily take two or three hours;

2. Study the country before arrival...thoroughly;

3. The best way to learn quickly about a country is to pick up a good guidebook that includes in-depth sections on its culture, language, history, customs, and popular industries. Pay particular attention to the local culture so that you know what is considered offensive behavior—and don’t do it!. Some of the following companies offer excellent resources:


4. Time and schedules. At home, you may be tethered to your Day-Timer, appointment book, Android or iPhone or other multitasking support devices.  Yet, please keep in mind that most of your e-mails can wait. Your most critical task while abroad is to spend quality time with your foreign hosts. If you're a speed-reader digest every guidebook on the country and scribble questions for your hosts, so as to maximize your time with them;

5. Don't attempt to streamline your contact time with your hosts. Carry a notepad with you at all times and write down questions you need to know. Your interest level will have a positive result and lasting effect;

6. Don't waste valuable time. When you're being driven from one location to another make notes in you notepad to ask your hosts;

7. If your hosts at your destination have an afternoon "rest period," use this time to answer emails so you can maximize your time with your hosts. Also, in many countries office hours don't begin before 0900-1000 hours, so use this time to confer with your colleagues so as to assess how successful the visit has been;

8. Have a check list before you leave "home" outlining every substantive issue, however small, that needs to be asked and answered before your return trip "home";

9. Take power naps when you have time so that your have reserve power to get you through early mornings and late nights;

10. In some countries, stores are rarely open late in the evening and may not be open at all on certain days of the week. In many cultures, your meetings will routinely be interrupted by subordinates. Accept such interruptions as normal without revealing any displeasure;

11. Always accept refreshments that are offered. Declining refreshments is considered rude and an affront to the generosity of the host. If you rush quickly into business discussions, you may not make the proper impression. Let your host be the first to begin business discussions. Follow his or her lead;

12.  Avoid asking judgmental questions that may be perceived as "being in bad taste";

13. If you've been asked to make the trip abroad, largely because you understand "AV-speak," impress your superiors by asking them to approve international insurance coverage for all of the AV support being taken abroad through:


14. Understand local etiquette. Educate yourself on dining etiquette. If you are going to Asia, learn to use chopsticks and do not decline food. Take small servings to leave your plate empty and convey just how much you enjoyed the meal. In a Muslim country, realize that alcoholic beverages normally are not served;

15. If you have a few weeks before your trip abroad, do yourself a favor and have your boss approve the purchase of Rosetta Stone (http://www.rosettastone.com) so that your skills in the native tongue will be well-honed when you arrive. Plus, you'll make points with your superiors because they don't have the time to learn the language;

16. Be careful with written communications. If a foreign counterpart sends you an e-mail, letter, or fax written in his or her language, respond in kind unless you are sure that your counterpart speaks your native tongue fluently. Below are some websites that can assist you with translation services and verbal interpretation assistance:


17. Do not over-tip. For a good global resource on tipping, see:


18. Be careful of gestures. Hand gestures that are acceptable at home are not always interpreted the same way abroad. For example, the “okay” sign and the “come here” gestures are offensive in some countries. Others can be perceived as being in poor taste. See the below resources:

Blunders in International Trade (David A. Ricks)

Taboos Around the World (Roger E. Axtell)

Taboos of International Trade (Roger E. Axtell)

Taboos Around the World for Women in Business (Roger E. Axtell)

19. Dress as your hosts dress. A T-shirt and khaki shorts for a man or a midriff shirt and a short skirt for a woman may be great outfits for going to lunch at home, but they may be offensive in many countries. Find out the appropriate dress, and pack accordingly. Keep in mind that lunch, dinner, and business meetings often require business dress;

20. For a good basic guide on business travel abroad, see:


21. Display humility and avoid being boastful. Locals you meet may have lower salaries, modest homes, and a lower socioeconomic level. Avoid discussions of wealth, possessions, or lifestyle. Being soft-spoken and asking questions about the country and its language are always well received. 

If you found this Tip of the Day useful, please send me a short quote telling me that it was helpful. Thanks, Ed