New York Etiquette Guide

Leading Across Borders: Multicultural Business Etiquette Trends

Posted on Mon, May 16, 2011

Global Business Etiquette










by Jeremy Willinger

Part 2/ Business Etiquette Trends

Today many international partnerships, both inside and outside the office, are needed to create a global brand. When an international team is assembled, either through direct contact or via online communications, employees must observe multicultural business etiquette in order to foster dialogue and collaboration.

To glimpse an office before integration and diversity, etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, founder of The Protocol School of Texas, recommends tuning into the show Mad Men, set in the 1960s, to see how much workplace rules and values have changed. What was once considered appropriate, such as drinking throughout the day and smoking in the office, would now be grounds for dismissal (and probably mandatory enrollment in an alcohol awareness class).

While contemporary business communications have moved beyond a three-martini lunch, they still require interaction—and now also acceptance. In acknowledging both the permanent and varied cultural composition of the new economy, etiquette leader Lyudmila Bloch notes, “Global companies require a global mindset and international know-how to succeed in business. Success now depends on not only a great product or service, but the ability to communicate effectively in foreign environments.”

The communication can vary in both how one relates to coworkers and to a different culture once immersed. The two primary rules of multicultural etiquette, says expert Margaret Page, are “to always be considerate of others and be clear in your actions and what you mean.” Direct language is easier to understand and allows less room for misinterpretation.

Perhaps the greatest difference between American and foreign business practices is the emphasis on ceremony. Mary Mitchell, president of The Mitchell Organization, explains, “Other cultures have a far greater respect for tradition and high context environments. We must see others' perspectives if we are going to have a successful relationship.”

All relationships begin with an introduction. However, everything from an introductory dinner to the first handshake and whom to first address in a group can vary by region. Gottsman offers a specific example: “If Japan is an important market for your company, you need to know the value that Japanese businesspeople place on the business card. Stuffing a business card into your pocket or writing a note on it will make a negative impression on your Japanese clients.” 

The responsibility to provide multicultural etiquette training usually falls on the employer. Thankfully, there are many programs developed by etiquette professionals designed to help both American workers going abroad and those from other countries assimilating into Western office environments. As Gottsman explains, “If you know in advance that you’re meeting with a potential business associate from another country, it’s absolutely essential to do some prior preparation.”

For those leaving on foreign assignments, or Americans acclimating to a diversifying workplace, Bloch created World Class Business Etiquette™, a successful multilingual program that addresses the needs of global professionals with international business considerations. Her client list reflects the ongoing globalization of the business world. “My program serves many Russian, Asian, and Arabic specialists immigrating to work in research, engineering, IT programming, and the pharmaceutical and banking industries,” she explains. “Last year, I was approached to have the entire program translated into Mandarin to serve the Chinese banking, medical device, and pharmaceutical markets.” Mitchell cites the same trend, noting “more than ever, my clients, which include Russians, Indians, and Asians, reflect the global marketplace.” 


Yet, no one said the training would be easy.  Sue Jacques, Canadian business etiquette coach for eleven years says, “It’s much harder to succeed in a new cultural and business environment. We need to acknowledge and admit that this is challenging.”  Sue has created a program called “New CAN” – Canadian Business Etiquette for International Professionals.”

Parallel to the import of international workers is the export in etiquette training. To meet the demand for those looking to learn Western business customs, Bloch and Mitchell collaborated to create "International Business Etiquette Experts" training to assist etiquette coaches from all over to become international, cross-cultural etiquette experts in their own countries. “So far,” she reports, “I have trained consultants from Europe, China, Russia, Canada, Aruba, Jamaica, Mexico, Morocco, Argentina, Chile, and many other countries.” 


Regardless of where a worker goes through customs, be it in the United States or elsewhere, chances are a multicultural workforce will be waiting. This is more common than ever, with Bloch noting, “Having a multicultural workforce is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity, given the global marketplace.” Preparing for this inevitability through specialized etiquette training will not only assist in one’s acclimation to a different country but help contribute to his/her personal success once established in a new role.

Tags: cross-cultural, business dining, American Business etiquette, social skills for business, world-class business etiquette seminars, business communications, multicultural etiquette training, etiquette consultants training, diverse workforce