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Post by Lyudmila Bloch, Multicultural Etiquette Expert NY
Business negotiations over a meal can seem like the ultimate test of your dining etiquette skills, body language expertise, and ability to handle difficult moments, especially, when a meeting happens in a foreign country. To achieve success, try using my business etiquette tips at your next business lunch abroad. These simple steps can help you enhance your professional image and avoid business etiquette faux pas.
1. Engage in “Getting-to-Know” time
Getting to know your business partners is essential in many countries, especially in Chinese culture, as well as Russian and South American cultures. This phase might include conversations about the other country’s history, origin of the business, family connections, or research interests. Keep in mind that small talk builds trust, and trust is the foundation of all business endeavors and negotiations. When there is no trust, there is no deal. In addition to trust, your business success hinges on the reputation of your company, ability to connect with decision-makers, and your business communication skills, which eventually could lead to new contracts and partnerships.
Often, in Asian cultures, business negotiators use a “round table” setup to facilitate spontaneous conversation and icebreaking. This setup eliminates power struggle (there is no leader at the head of the table) and promotes cooperation and cultural integration.
2. Use Your Emotional Intelligence and Positive Body Language
As one of the multiple intelligences of the human brain, Emotional Intelligence (EI) governs our emotional response to an external/internal situation (positive or negative), crossing the boundaries of many psychological subsystems. EI is helpful in processing our feelings/emotions and guiding our actions/behaviors in response to them. It involves the ability to read verbal cues (words and tonality) and nonverbal cues (gestures, facial expressions, and body language).
Emotional Intelligence can help you process and make decisions about a business offer, proposal, or a conflict issue at hand. EI also allows you to respond timely and accurately during important business meetings. Being able to interpret the other team’s body language might reveal a possible hidden agenda, hesitation, deception, or manipulation. Furthermore, using Emotional Intelligence when you encounter a pause or negative body language signal (for example, nose touching, eye rolling, or chin holding) can help you switch gears and try a better approach. A good listener pays attention to hand gestures and tonality and is able to find out a significant amount of information by just observing his opponents.
Remember that body language and hand gestures may mean something different in a foreign country. For example, Americans often like to engage -- speaking up and expressing their point of view in a conversation while negotiating with foreign partners. But in many countries, like China, the etiquette rules of engagement are quite different and silence is the norm; there is no need to jump in and fill the silence with words or gestures. Learning about these cultural nuances and differences from your etiquette coach could help you better understand others' body-language signals and avoid business communication blunders that may ultimately kill your deal.
3. Practicing Fine Dining Anywhere in the World
International norms of dining etiquette can be an additional challenge when negotiating a deal, but it shouldn't be a distraction in achieving your goal. Table manners abroad could be different from what you know at home. So be prepared to use chopsticks, silverware, or even your fingers—depending on the country you find yourself in during a deal-making process.
A businessperson visiting clients overseas should try to taste a bit of everything that is being served in order to show respect for the host. Staying with familiar foods is a safe bet but it does not promote cultural understanding. Remember, it’s not about you and your taste buds—it’s about understanding your new cultural environment and showing appreciation for its people.
4. Understanding Drinking Protocol and Wine Etiquette
In some cultures, alcohol is often served during negotiations or at a business banquet. Particularly in Asia and Russia, drinking is considered a normal business pastime. But in the Middle East, it’s totally unacceptable. If you are not a drinker and have no tolerance for alcohol but find yourself in a culture where it’s customary to drink (Russia, China, Korea, Finland), feign a minor stomach bug and keep hard drinking to a minimum. Otherwise, you will be quickly outpaced and embarrassed. Stick with water instead, referencing health reasons and compliment the food that is being served. Often your host will accept your health excuse and make an exception to the strict drinking etiquette rules in those countries.
Awareness and practice of dining etiquette and business communications skills will help you gain a valuable etiquette advantage in business no matter what your challenges are!
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