Business English: cultural differences and business etiquette 1

Cultural Differences: Business Etiquette part 1

Cultural differences become heightened when people from different nations or even organizations come together to do business, making business etiquette an essential knowledge. National cultures usually dominate business environment, unless their environment involves international interactions. Multinational organizations employ people from different countries. On the other hand, there are many international companies with employees of the same nationality, but interact with companies from other countries. In both cases, cultural differences can affect and if not appropriately managed, hinder communication.

It is not uncommon to experience conflicts due to cultural differences. People of different nationalities tend to have their own business communication styles and habits. The best way to avoid miscommunication and misunderstanding is to learn more about cultural differences and be mindful of them in communication. The following points need to be kept in mind in international situations: greeting styles, business card exchange, proximity, and humor.

Greeting styles

Greeting styles differ from one country to another. Knowing how to properly greet a person from another culture not only helps avoid awkward situations, but it is good business etiquette and it appeals to them. Thanks to the Internet, cultural knowledge is only a couple of clicks away, but these small steps go a long way in international communication. Making an effort to learn more about a colleague, a client, or even a customer’s culture is a way of showing respect and care.

Some styles are now well known among business persons. For example, Asians tend to bow in order to greet each other while Americans prefer handshakes. In Islamic countries, men and women do not shake hands, and women tend to avoid too much eye contact. On the other hand, making eye contact is common, even important, in European countries. Take time to research more about the culture of international people around you. This could become the basis on which you build stronger relationships.

Business card exchange

Businesspersons exchange cards when they first meet. It is important to treat the card with respect, especially if your contact is from Asia. Offer the card with both hands, with the right side facing them. You may place the business cards you were given in front of you at the meeting. This helps you remember names and titles if you need to refer to them. This is especially useful when there are more than two people on the other side of the table. Do not write on the cards. Make sure have enough business cards with you at all times.


Keeping the right distance is a sign of good business etiquette. Standing too far away could be interpreted as disinterest while being too close could make people uncomfortable. A reasonable distance means respecting people’s personal physical boundaries as well as being able to make eye contact more easily. People who know each other may stand a bit closer, but it is not wise to try that in first encounters. If the person takes a step back, it means you are too close. In countries where contact between men and women is avoided, acceptable proximity within the culture must be kept in mind.


Humor can be rewarding or highly sensitive across cultures. Approaches to humor need to be carefully considered, as they can easily be interpreted as disrespect or lead to serious conflicts. In some cultures, closeness and humor come hand in hand, creating a relationship where could lead to future business deals. On the other hand, in certain countries humor is strictly avoided in business settings. While people of the same country may use certain jokes, it can be regarded as insulting and offensive from a person of a different culture. Before you resort to humor to make bonds, assess the situation and make sure it is acceptable in your contact’s culture.

Understanding cultural differences in terms of greeting, business card exchange, proximity, and humor can help make a good first impression in business encounters. Managing cultural differences alleviates chances of conflicts or reduces them to a minimum. It also shows others that you care enough to take time and learn about their culture.

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