Getting Ready to Go Offshore: Understanding Variations in Business Culture

Posted by on December 3, 2013 in Business Etiquette, Business Management, Business Travel, Startups [ 0 Comments ]

offshore business relationshipsChoosing to outsource all or part of your business is a big step – and what is acceptable for other business cultures is essential for success in doing so. You probably know how important it is to learn customs when traveling for business, such as giving and receiving business cards with both hands when visiting Southeast Asian countries.

However, even if you never meet your offshore colleagues and/or employees in person, taking the time to understand the intricate nuances of the countries you’re working with can pay off big time.

Related: 3 Ways to Improve International Communication


The Philippines

Interpersonal relationships supply the foundation for business relationships in this country; in other words, business relationships are inherently personal relationships. Don’t be surprised if colleagues ask for favors, but rest assured that your asking for favors is also expected.

It’s your job to develop a personal relationship, and you’re not necessarily representing your business (or at least that’s how your Filipino colleagues will see things). Dressing conservatively is standard, and meetings require advanced scheduling: about three or four weeks is the norm, and it’s always best to confirm a couple of days in advance.

This is a culture where punctuality is crucial, and whenever possible, face-to-face meetings are preferred. Easter is a big holiday in this country, so schedule accordingly and always send an advance agenda because people like to be prepared.

Recognize that the final decision-maker may not attend the meeting at all, and humility is key (e.g., exaggerated claims are frowned upon). Any food and drink should always be accepted (even politely saying no means you cause others to lose face), and the socializing at the end of the meeting is just as important as the meeting itself.

Related: The Lost Art of Business Etiquette


Patience is truly a virtue in India because, at best, business is difficult and slow: Be persistent, but stay polite. It’s common to hear that something “can’t be done,” so just repeat your request patiently but repeatedly.

Several visits may be necessary before any action is taken. However, when it comes to business cards, there is a strict protocol: Many Indians use and prefer English on these cards and expect to exchange them during introductions. There’s usually one main person who will make the decisions (it’s a top-to-bottom approach), so do your best to work with them.

Small talk is celebrated, and it’s considered rude to delve right into business talk. Ask about family first and foremost, and then hobbies. Always accept any food and drink offered here, too, and expect that it will likely include chai.

Your drink may be refilled when it begins to get low, so sip accordingly. Finally, realize that the person you’re meeting with may not show up at all and rescheduling repeatedly is common.

Eastern Europe

Generally, business moves slower here than in the US — although that can depend on the particular country. Small talk prior to business talk is a wise move, and it’s important to build personal relationships complementary to business relationships.

Subtly suggest that you’re respected by your colleagues and others in your industry without sounding pompous, and you’ll earn their respect, too. Hierarchy is crucial here, so make a point of learning the positions in the company you’re dealing with, and provide a list of your own attendees along with their positions so proper seating arrangements can be made.

Related: 7 Habits of Highly Productive Startup Owners

Learning and following business etiquette overseas can help American companies work well with others around the world. As globalization continues, it’s more important than ever to make an effort, which may pay off handsomely. You just might get a new partner with some know-how and practice. Regardless of who’s hosting, take it upon yourself to be proactive and you’ll enjoy a more enjoyable, symbiotic relationship.

Author Bio: Drew Hendricks is a tech, social media and environmental addict. He’s written for many major publishers such as National Geographic and Technorati.

(Image: adamr via

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