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There is a lot of talk today about being “global”. What does global mean? A person of the world? Every country is as different. So is every locality and city or town. The skills a business person needs to be successful in international business go beyond being global. While not comprehensive, this list based on over a dozen years of international business experience should help.
For the international business person, travel is a way of life. Long distance air travel can be especially brutal. The best advice is to arrive one day before any important meetings or conferences to adjust to any time difference. In the air, eat, sleep, work and read but do all in moderation. Air travel gluttony is common among international travelers. The on thing you cannot do is exercise on an airplane.
Stay where your host, whether a local office or a client recommends. While cost is a consideration, so is safety, convenience to meeting locations and services provided. This is the home away from home so chose it with care.
Eat in moderation. Business travel is not the time to make up for every diet that one has ever been one. There is the temptation to eat more than usual. On the other had, when with people who live locally, whether colleagues or clients, ask what they recommend when dining together. Apart from allergies, one should be open to eating local cuisine.
Some cultures drink more than Americans. Some drink less. And some not at all. The best advice is to drink in moderation or not at all. Similar to eating, international business travel is not the time to beat ones college drinking record. It is not healthy and it is insulting to clients and colleagues.
Most American business people, even after the business casual trend, still dress much more casually than business people internationally. Find out from local colleagues or even clients what attire is appropriate. If you do not know, dress in traditional business attire (suits for men and for women). This can always be dressed down if appropriate. Dress like you mean business but more importantly, dress appropriately. The same applies to evening dinners and functions outside of business hours.
Be at meeting early. Do not leave until the meeting is over. Even if others leave to take calls, do not do so except at scheduled breaks. Eat in moderation if lunch is brought in. Do not drink too much coffee but bottled water is good. Clean up after yourself after the meeting. And do not sit in the meeting with your laptop and read your email. That is rude. Do make sure you bring plenty of business cards. Introduce yourself to everybody. Do not interrupt, raise your voice or swear. If you have other calls, schedule them for the evening when not meeting with the clients or your colleagues.
In the evenings it is common to have dinner with clients or colleagues. After dinner is often a time to relax, exercise and catch up on some work before the next day. If staying over a weekend or taking a day off, visit local historical sites, museums, cultural events and also shops and restaurants. Staying in the hotel doing work is not healthy and it does not make one more internationally-minded or cultured.
Find out how your clients and colleagues prefer to communicate when not face-to-face. E-mail is common today. Conference calls are important too. Video conference calls can be very effective. Snail mail and faxes are less and less common today but are still necessary from time-to-time. Keep all communications clear, crisp and to the point. On international conference calls, listen more than talk. And do not interrupt. Ever. Take notes or minutes and make sure they are distributed within one business day of the call. Never e-mail jokes, gags, anything obscene or off-color. Do not swear or raise your voice on calls or video calls. Listening and patience are valued in most non-US cultures.
While most non-US business people speak 2-4 languages most from the US speak 1 or perhaps 2 and not well. To this end, speak clearly in English. Be patient if asked to repeat or explain. This is especially true on conference calls. It is acceptable to pick up local words or phrases. Make sure they are appropriate and that they are pronounced flawlessly. Do not make a joke out of local words or phrases. This is insulting to clients and local colleagues.
While business has a lot to do with finance, technology, human resources, research and development and law, it has more to do with people than anything else. To that end, doing business internationally is about people. By traveling and working with dignity and respect for customers and local colleagues, one is taking the first step toward the extensive skills needed to be successful in international business.