While business and social etiquettes should be observed even within a cultural group, they are even more significant in an inter-cultural and transnational context. In the following paragraphs, we will be looking at some rules that should be followed while conducting business.
1. Business Is Not All Business:
Sociologists describe human being as a social animal. In that sense men and women are members of a society. They are also a part of the community. That is how social behaviour becomes relevant.
Businesses all over the world are indeed a part of the society. In the world of business, there is a premium on those business organizations that observe corporate social responsibility. The point that needs emphasis here is that businesses and society are inseparable.
Social behaviour encompasses the business environment. Even business relationship, therefore, has a social dimension. Hence business meets are not bereft of social aspects. It is in this backdrop that we have to appreciate the significance of business and social etiquettes. Social behaviour relates to social etiquettes within the overall context of business meets and relationships.
2. Understanding Etiquettes:
The word etiquettes pronounced as ‘etiket’ is derived from a French word. It relates to conventions of correct or polite social behaviour. Etiquette relates to rules, usually unwritten ones, regarding the behaviour of members of a particular profession, etc., towards each other.
Roget’s Thesaurus describes etiquette in the following words:
Rule, standing, order, precedent, routine, mode, conformity, practice, custom, habit, manners, breeding, demeanor, gentility, decorum, propriety and carriage.
These are all the synonyms and have the same meaning as etiquette.
The thesaurus also lists out antonyms or the following words which have opposite or different meanings:
Vulgar, bad taste, awkward, tactless, ill-bred, coarseness, rough, slovenly, ungentle, gaudy, horrid and obtrusive.
If you look closely at these synonyms and antonyms, you would understand what good etiquettes are and how behaviour can be described in their absence.
Etiquettes in a business and social context relate to how people should act, talk, eat, dress and carry themselves properly. To be more specific, business and social etiquettes generally cover the following, especially in an inter-cultural context:
Introductions Greetings and shaking hands
Exchanging business cards Dressing for the occasion
Punctuality Politeness and courtesy
Addressing seniors, elders and ladies Postures and gestures
Table manners Lunch and dinner behaviour
One should try to learn more about each of these before interacting with people of specific country or culture
3. Cross-cultural differences:
Obviously, there are vast differences in business and social etiquettes between cultures and countries. Since social etiquettes influence business behaviour, business etiquettes too vary from country to country. It is just not possible to know all of them beforehand. One cannot just read about all of them and memorize them.
Let us just look at some examples to understand the variations, and how what is proper in one country is not so in another.
i. Greeting by hugging a female is quite acceptable in Latin American countries.
ii. Greeting is done by shaking hands or kissing a lady’s hand in European countries.
iii. In contrast, let alone touching, one should not even have eye contact with ladies in Arab countries.
iv. In India, folding hands to convey Namaste or even shaking hands, especially in metros, is acceptable.
v. Being late for business meetings, although somewhat acceptable in India, is frowned upon in Germany and America.
Addressing people varies from country to country. In Korea, which follows a hierarchical pattern, you start with the most senior among the persons present and move on to the others. In America, however, given its non-hierarchical set-up, there is no such defined order of priority. Nevertheless, common sense suggests that as a general rule, it is desirable to follow some order and start with more important persons and senior p.
Dress codes also very from country to country. Even in countries like the US and Canada, where business meets are formal, weekends are dress- down days. For the first meeting, however, it is better that one arrives formally.
Unlike in India, in many Western countries, meeting people without appointment and casual conversation is not appreciated.
These are just some tips. As we have noted earlier, there are numerous ways in which business and social etiquettes are observed. It could be table manners or methods of eating. It could be changing business cards.
In Japan and certain other countries, business cards are accepted with both hands. Awareness of differences is the first step towards mastering them.
4. Do Not Be Overwhelmed:
Inter-cultural differences across countries are varied and real. Today’s business meets and relationships are spread across a large number of countries from East to West. It could be UK, USA, Australia, Latin America, Europe, China, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong or even Africa.
Since there is so much of diversity, it is just not possible to be well informed about all these countries. Yet, there is no need to get overwhelmed or overawed by the situation. Just as it is true that Indians may not be aware of the Japanese or French customs and etiquettes, the vice versa is also true.
What matters in an inter-cultural context is not mastery but sincerity. People do understand that first-time visitors and people who are new to their cultures are bound to be less informed.
But what they appreciate is care, concern and sincerity. It takes a lot of effort to use the chopsticks like the Chinese. They may not mind the foreigners eating with forks and spoons. Some cultures even tolerate the Indian habit of eating with hands.
Similarly, while visiting Japan one may not bow and greet like Japanese. Yet, it is possible to make an effort and show that you care. People across cultures appreciate if you are aware, sensitive and take pains to respect their customs and habits.
Be aware and sensitive. Recognizing and respecting differences show that you care. Make efforts to learn. Admit your ignorance. Show interest. Ask polite questions.
5. Ways to Learn:
The world of today is described as a global village. The barriers of the past have broken down and there is a more transparent and free exchange of ideas and information. The best part of today’s world is that it is an information society.
There is a growing access to any kind of information relating to any country in the world, thanks (especially) to the Internet. Those who want to know more about any country in the world, especially about the prevailing business and social etiquettes, can access several sources. These include the following:
i. Websites of those countries, especially travel sites
ii. Travel guides
iii. Brochures, newsletters brought out by the embassies
iv. Publications brought out by trade organizations, chambers of industry and commerce, etc.
One can also learn from those people who have already interacted with those cultures, visited those countries and have picked up the relevant business and social etiquettes. One can look for a suitable guide or informant and learn whatever is essential from that person.
In conclusion, it must be emphasized that business and social etiquettes are extremely relevant in the world of business. There is no such person as a good business person with bad etiquettes. Good communication skills should be accompanied by good business and social etiquettes, both inter-culturally and intra-culturally.
Remember that you as an individual represent your business organization and also your country. Bad manners and etiquettes hurt your reputation as an individual, and also your organization and the country at large.