Russian Business Etiquette
By all means, this is not a guide which stereotypes the Russian people or is written in stone, these tips on Russian business etiquette are more so an opportunity to provide you with greater cultural awareness and understanding of what the ‘norms’ are in Russia when it comes to doing business. Remember to always respect the culture, values and traditions of your prospective clients.
One of the key things to remember when doing business in Russia is to remember to respect the nature of the situation and understand that formal language and titles are seen in extremely high regard. You must respect the titles of your prospective clients and it is expected that you do. This is vital to set up a good business relationship. Unless your prospective business partner suggests an informal approach then formality is the norm. Use Mr/Mrs or Miss accordingly.
On arrival to your meeting, always shake hands and maintain direct eye contact with your client. Although it may not seem important to you, always remove your gloves when shaking someone’s hand and wait until you are inside or in the room to shake hands as it is considered bad manners to shake hands over the threshold.
Always have a business card for meetings – it is expected. You must ensure that your business card is both in Russian and English and that you include your qualifications. It is a sign of respect to the client and correct etiquette. Make sure when you present your business card that the Russian version is facing up. When receiving the business card give it the importance it deserves as it is seen as an important aspect of business etiquette.
If you wish to bring a gift to an initial business meeting do so and something representative of your company or with your company logo is a good idea.
Most company and government business meetings will have a predetermined seating arrangement with Russians on one side and guests on the other.
Russians believe in spending time getting to know you before they begin negotiations. This is part and parcel of the business process and a way to decide whether to work with you in a business environment. Although it may seem cautious, it is vital that you recognise this and respect this as it is the norm in most businesses and industries. Once you have established a good business relationship you will find that things will be a lot more open going forwards and things may become more friendly and jovial. Personality, connections and relationships are vital to sealing the deal and progressing in a Russian business environment so any connections or networks that you know or are part of will be vital to business success.
Planning your business meeting:
Be aware of booking your business meeting well in advance and being respectful of working hours and public holidays. Depending on the business sector or industry, scheduling a morning meeting for example, can be difficult as working hours start and finish later than what you may be accustomed to. In most businesses and industries, the best time for a meeting will be after lunch. Always remember holidays and birthdays, gifts will be expected as well even though you may not think it relevant or necessary.
As the prospective client you are always expected to be on time and punctual. Even if your client may arrive later, you will be expected to be there on time. Patience is seen as a virtue in Russia and in most businesses and industries this is the norm.
Any documents that you bring to present your company or product should be available in both Russian and English. Again, as with your business card, this shows respect towards your client’s language and culture. Make sure that you have prepared your presentation in a clear, accurate detailed manner and should sell your product or your company.
During your meeting, you may find the pace is slower than what you are accustomed to. You must show patience and there may be interruptions or a lot of conversation before discussions actually begin. Also, demonstrate respect towards your Russian clients and never discuss politics, history or the USSR.
In business meetings, the rule of thumb is generally not to be overly humorous and laugh too much. On the whole, such behaviour is seen as being self-depreciating and insincere and be easily misunderstood, so try and avoid doing too much of this. Follow the cues of your client and if they seem to feel that they can be more informal than do so, but only when it has been initiated by your client.
For businesswomen, you may find that you need to prove yourself. By presenting your business card with your title and qualifications at the start of the meeting, and reinforcing this information this will be invaluable.
Russia is known for its complicated bureaucratic processes. Any official forms and information that are required to fill in will require, on the whole, a lot of patience on your behalf. In being prepared for this the process will be much smoother for you. In terms of dealing with bureaucracy, the general advice is to find the right person who will deal with your request and recognise that the process and a response may take longer than you would like. If a strict deadline is required, then state that it cannot be altered and this will help.
Adaptability and flexibility are key to establishing a successful business relationship with your prospective Russian client. Respect and recognise the formalities of doing business in Russia and be patient. In most businesses and industries, do not expect to have a lot of written confirmation of negotiations as generally, Russians dislike agreeing to something which they cannot fulfil at a later stage.
Business meals and social etiquette:
-Generally, business meals are a time for sealing a deal not making decisions, negotiating or getting to know each other so do not use this time to do this.
-Wait until your host says you can begin before you start eating.
-When a toast is made avoid breaking eye contact with your host and remember that it is very possible that you will also be required to make a toast as a guest. Something such as “na zdarovya” (to your health) is simple and goes a long way. If you are having a non-alcoholic drink do not clink glasses following the toast.
–Your host will usually be the first to leave the table so wait until you are invited to leave the table by your host. Older generations or your host have priority at the dining table.
-Hands should remain visible but you should never put your elbows on the table.
-Do use bread for cleaning up a sauce and eat all of the bread that you have taken as it is considered wasteful not to do so.
-Pass all dishes to your left.
-As a way of letting your host know that you are full, leave some food on your plate at the end of the meal. Your fork and knife should be placed across the plate horizontally.
-Accept alcoholic beverages offered to you such as vodka – it is expected. It is also expected to take a sip of vodka whilst eating. However, if you do not drink you can always say the doctor has told you not to drink!
-If you do not wish to consume more alcohol keep your glass half full as this is a sign to your host that you do not wish to consume any more
Do dress conservatively for business occasions. Dark suits for men and below knee lengths skirt suits for women, keeping knees and elbows covered and shirts buttoned up right to the collar. It is expected as with any suit attire that formal shoes be worn of course and these should be well polished. Do not overdress in bright colours and overly flashy clothes. Conservative is best.
If you wish to offer a small gift then this is appropriate but whatever you offer should be in keeping with the position of the businessperson you are dealing with.
Don’t let it happen to you!
On one occasion a Russian Ministry official reprimanded a businessman and the businessman nearly lost a lucrative deal. Why? Because the title of the official was incorrect on a piece of paperwork.
Always be respectful of your prospective business partner’s culture and traditions. Here at Lingua Translations, we offer cross-cultural training to ensure that your business dealings are not ruined by an inadequate knowledge of your target culture. Contact us now to find out more!