6 Tips for Making Global Business Introductions
So what do I mean by global business introductions?
You are traveling to a country on the other-side of the world for the first time. You land and someone is looking at you with what seems like a partial recognition. What do you do? Wave, nod, quietly move their way and then shake hands? Or do you bow? Yes in those few seconds of non-verbal communication, you can blow making that so important good first impression.
How do you make those global business introductions?
Despite globalization, the reality is that we still assess a person within the first few seconds of meeting them. This can determine whether to hire, partner or date for that matter! We pack a lot of meaning in those oh so precious seconds. Furthermore, we may have a pre-conceived idea of a person because we have communicated online however although this can make the introduction easier; it can also be challenging as our assumptions about the person becomes dismantled.
My work has taken me over the ocean and borders a number of times. I have learned to do my homework on the country’s culture as well as the organization, prior to any visit.
Here are a few pointers on those important global business introductions.
1. First Names
As a leader, relationship building is a key component of the role. Although the familiarity and the use of first names may be popular in Canada and the U.S., this is not necessarily the case in other countries. In some countries, addressing a person by their first name can be considered as disrespectful, even an insult until a level of familiarity is actually established. With the economy the way it is today and the fusion of our global markets, this may not always be clear – nonetheless it should be considered when addressing a person for the first time. Now etiquette on social media is still evolving. In my experience, familiarity is expedited with the use of social media and usually the username on a professional site, like LinkedIn, is an indicator as to how you should address a person. However, one should still proceed with caution.
2. Surnames [Last names]
Many Asian countries list surnames first and given names last. Make a point to confirm surnames whenever possible when meeting someone for the first time-specially on a business trip.
Pronouncing names can often be a challenge. Our tongue is a muscle and it needs to be trained to get it right. My recommendation is not to assume you know how to say it. People are more sensitive about their names than they let on. I usually ask them, or ask their assistant, for the correct pronunciation of their name. I then quickly record it on my phone while it is still fresh to my ears and then I practice. Good examples are the names Michele and Andrea. These are popular names in both Italy and Canada. However the Italian pronunciation is very different to the English pronunciation. Furthermore, although there is a huge Italian population where I reside in Canada, I still did not know the correct pronunciation until I worked in Italy. Secondly, my introductions to these names were of male business colleagues. So ask, record, practice and do not assume gender. I have been thanked many times just for asking for the proper pronunciation and then forgiven when I attempted to pronounce it. I gained respect because I showed I cared and tried.
Failing to address someone by his or her proper title-such as a doctor, professor, or chief executive officer-can start your meeting totally on the wrong footing. Yep, titles still matters. If you have only spoken to the person on the phone and could not find a photo of the person -when meeting them for the first time in a group, you should not assume who’s who. I have had so many first meetings with business leaders where it was assumed that I was not the leader and my host would welcome my travelling business partner as the leader. Do not make that mistake. if you are not sure- ask.
5. Business Cards
To this day, when I receive a business card regardless of where I am, I spend a few moments looking at it and if I am at a table, proudly display it beside my “stuff”. It is common in North America for professionals to casually hand out and receive business cards with one hand. But in many other countries, it is a bit of a ritual where it is customary to handle the business card with both hands and some actually do a slight bow upon receipt. The business card has huge significance in some cultures and so the associated attention is a sign of respect. The reason I put the card on the table, is that in some cultures it is frowned upon if you put the card away during the meeting.
Please do not put your guest’s business card in your back pocket near your rear-end. Your meeting will be over before it even got started- perhaps not physically but mentally. Now in some cultures writing on the business is considered disrespectful- so know your audience.
6. Personal Space
You really need to consider personal space and touching. Here in Canada, we touch people a lot! Touching, hugging, and/or kissing cheeks. However, having said that, in Canada shaking hands is not as popular as it use to be. Canadians have become very sensitive since SARS. It has been my experience that visitors are quite taken back to witness people sneezing into their arms to curb the spread of infection. Canadians are sensitive to shaking hands with those who do not have the same practice. This was very noticeable to me when I travelled.
In some countries, especially in the Middle East, touching on any level is not acceptable. Furthermore, in many cultures or religions, it is improper for men and women to touch members of the opposite sex, other than their spouses or close family members. I usually wait and take the host’s lead. So do keep that in mind. Certainly, as a female leader, meeting other leaders from different cultures, you really do have to do your homework and not be too sensitive about your own norms especially if you want to ensure a successful discussion.
All this with in the first few minutes of a business introduction!
Now it is your turn.
What about you? What other global business introductory rituals have you experienced? Or can you educate us on your local customs? With so many countries and global leaders today, I would be thrilled to hear from you and add to this list.