Here at Mango we often talk about the preparation that goes into readying an assignee for their trip abroad. But once they’re safely settled in their host country, it’s time for you to switch tactics and help them navigate the day-to-day cultural differences of life in a new place. One of the most essential things to focus on is preparing them for their new work life, including clueing them into rules and etiquette regarding business meetings.
Depending on where your assignee is living, the mechanics of a business meeting can differ greatly from how one might operate in the United States. Before you bid your assignee farewell, it’s important to instruct them on proper business etiquette in their new host country. Here are a few pointers you should cover before their first day on the job.
Depending on where your assignee is heading off to, they may find that business meetings in their new home are either much more or much less formal than they’re used to at home. In Europe and Asia, traditions of how business associates, subordinates and superiors behave during work hours and meetings run deep - starting with how they greet each other.
Introductions during an international business meeting are incredibly important and set the tone for the rest of the meeting, so it’s necessary that they’re taken seriously, and small things can be taken as a slight. In Singapore and Japan, for example, your assignee should know to give and receive business cards with two hands—passing a business card offhandedly or sliding it across the table is a real cultural faux pas. You wouldn’t want them to offend their new coworkers with a cultural miscommunication.
Hierarchy dos and don’ts
In the last few decades, corporate culture in the United States has de-emphasized company hierarchy. Trends have led to senior managers and even some C-level executives abandoning their corner offices for a cubicle to better mix in with other employees. In many places around the globe, this level of informality isn’t the case. When employees are introduced to new coworkers and clients, make sure your assignees know to ask how to address them—and how it may differ in written communication and speaking communication. For example, your assignee’s Berlin Geschäftsführer (executive) may be “Herr Becker” in person, but your assignee will need to address emails to him as “Sehr geehrter Herr Becker.”
For many people, especially for managers who are higher up, titles are important. By asking how they’d like to be addressed, your assignees can avoid an awkward or uncomfortable situations and find clarity when speaking with superiors and clients.
In the United States, business moves fast, so you’ll often find the attendees of a meeting typing away on a computer or browsing through their email while in a meeting - both of which are acceptable. In other countries, meetings are less rigorous, but attendees are expected to be engaged in the conversation and not consumed by their smartphones or laptops. Be sure to let your assignees know that a different level of presentness is expected in European conference rooms. Old habits are hard to break, so advise they leave laptops and smartphones behind in favor of a pad of paper. It may be old-fashioned, but they’ll find themselves more engaged and involved in their meetings abroad.
Attending business meetings abroad are much different than ones in the United States. From greetings to attentiveness, be sure your assignee understands what’s expected of them before they step into the conference room at their new job abroad.
Correction: our reader Geoff pointed out a grammatical error in our German, which has been fixed. As in any business meeting abroad, the best way to deal with a language mistake is to fix it, smile and move forward with ever-increasing knowledge of adjective agreement.