International Business Etiquette
It’s no secret that proper etiquette is an essential part of any business interaction. Establishing good rapport is the first step towards ensuring smooth business transactions going forward.
And when it comes to doing business in a foreign country, this is more important than ever. Understanding the individual culture, etiquette and taboos of other countries ensures that you start your business off on the right foot. From handshakes and business cards to meeting and greeting, there are plenty of opportunities for faux pas.
To help you on your way, we’ve put together a number of guidelines on business etiquette in Africa.
General Guidelines for Business in Africa
There are a number of general rules that apply for doing business in most African countries.
When it comes to greeting business associates for the first time, a warm handshake is the best start. Take the time to ask about your associate’s health and family. It’s considered very rude to rush this. Titles are important, so be sure to use the appropriate honorifics, academic or professional titles where applicable. Wait until invited before moving to a first-name basis. When exchanging business cards, always present and receive them with two hands or the right hand, but never with the left. Be sure to study a business card closely before putting it away.
Initial meetings are generally centred on getting to know each other. Don’t expect to get down to business at the first meeting. Instead, take this opportunity to build a foundation for future business dealings.
These general guidelines are very useful for conducting business in Africa. However, each culture has its own unique set of rules that must also be considered as follows:
Doing business in Nigeria
The first business meeting will generally focus on establishing relationships, so don’t rush your business agenda. Be sure that you and your team present a united front, as any disagreement can be interpreted as a red flag. If you plan to work from an agenda, it is a good idea to send it in advance as a matter of courtesy.
Doing business in Angola
Greetings are generally quite formal, and are initiated with a courteous handshake. However, women should avoid making direct eye contact during the greeting process. When meeting someone more senior in age or position, it’s polite to bow slightly, as well as avoid direct eye contact. When speaking with someone at your own level, direct eye contact conveys sincerity. Close physical proximity is standard when speaking to an associate, and it’s considered rude to back away.
As a sign of respect, men often lower their heads and avert their eyes when greeting someone superior to them in age or position. It’s also important to greet seniors first. Women tend not to look others in the eye even if it is another woman. Use honorific titles and surnames when conversing with associates, and use “Excellency” when speaking to government officials.
Begin any presentation by providing a historical framework or context. Avoid using direct or blunt statements, as this may cause offence. Instead, frame comments and statements using more indirect references, while ensuring that any constructive criticism is done in private. Meetings seldom have scheduled ending times and instead only end when all parties are satisfied.
Wear high-quality, conservative clothes when meeting for the first time. Always accept when offered coffee or tea even if you don’t intend to drink it. Direct eye contact is considered a sign of honesty. Make appointments in advance, and be sure to confirm them a week before and again two days before. Expect an open-door policy, where frequent interruptions may take place during a meeting. If you send an agenda or presentation materials in advance, send both an English and Egyptian Arabic translation. Hone your negotiation skills and prepare to bargain in order to meet a mutually satisfying arrangement.
While there is no set of rules that apply for every culture, gender and belief system, these insights will go a long way towards getting your foreign business dealings off to a great start.