Tips for international business relations

Tips for international business relations blog post

International business is an exciting and lucrative environment to work in and managing projects remotely is part of what we at HYPATIA do best. Perhaps you’re looking to fit into an overseas team, attend a conference with foreign business associates or are beginning your approach into a new market – getting it right is key. With a whole world of business waiting, how can you make the most of your foreign connections and build long-lasting relations in international business?

BE SMART Should you address a business partner from Japan as ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’ via email? Or expect a colleague in Germany to bend the rules for your project? Would you expect your Russian representative to be strictly on time to meetings? (No, no and no). In the same way as walking in and putting your feet on the table might signal offence (and confusion!) in the Western world, such small customs can have a huge impact if misinterpreted. International relations can be a minefield but do your homework and you’ll quickly find how far simple acknowledgements can go in showing both respect and dedication to the business in hand.


Ideas from abroad can be ground breaking; could a morale-boosting or cost-saving business idea from abroad be similarly replicated in your own company? Or let’s say you have a business meeting over Skype with a client from Hong Kong and you’re aware it’s all about who you know here. Have you got a friend or contact who could inform you of the customs in this country? Their tips may help lighten the conversation, and show that you are inclusive and accepting of their culture. Even sending a last minute email or doing an internet search could mean the difference between a positive first impression.


In order to get business done abroad, you may have to jump through a few more unusual hoops. It may sound straightforward, but keeping tabs on different time zones is essential.  Accidentally firing off an IM on the weekend for a favour, or chasing a frustrating deadline from someone who hasn’t woken up yet isn’t likely to start their day in the best spirits. Be flexible in your time schedules to accommodate. Getting up a couple of hours earlier for a business call may be a challenge for a Monday, but it could mean that business moves more smoothly in the long term. A burgeoning international relationship is on the horizon!


Respect can also be earned outside of office hours, particularly at the dinner table where business deals are frequently made. When dining with foreign business associates, something as simple as placing your hands correctly can become a dilemma. Remember when you were taught not to put your elbows on the table? In Russia it is most polite to keep your wrists there whilst eating, whilst the Chinese slurp their good as a mark of courtesy. In some cultures to clear your plate will trigger more food being piled on, in others to leave a scrap of food is likely to query whether you dislike it or are feeling ill. Watch and wait for your host to act before putting your foot in it. Fine-tuning those individual table manners can establish rapport which extends from the dining room to the board room.


Your client can’t be contacted for a week because of a religious festival – don’t get annoyed, get creative. Send an e-card or a well-researched gift and be in their good books for the foreseeable future. It makes you stand out from the crowd and maintains that international link until another project arises. It would be boring if we all had the same beliefs; each brings its own unique client prospects and personal learning experience.

The same goes for the less celebratory news. With fear and disaster dominating personal and business lives on a daily basis, a few kind words never go amiss. Take five minutes out to share your condolences and support to those who’ve been impacted. You’ll be surprised at the heartfelt responses you receive. After all, what could be more important than setting a true example of what a global community should be all about.