Back home, you’re the beacon of business etiquette. In fact, it was you who coined the phrase “If you’re not 10 minutes early, you’re 10 minutes late.”
But how does your punctuality, professional demeanour, and gravity-defying trouser socks translate when it’s time to take your show on the road?
International business travel has its own set of rules, which must be followed in order to make your next business trip a career-advancing success.
1. Keep meetings short in the airport
Keep your yammering to a minimum when conducting business in the airport. After all, everyone has a plane to catch!
If a big prospective client is willing to give you a few minutes before his red eye to Shanghai, keep your pitch short and to the point. (And don’t forget to recommend your favourite spot in Fuxing Park).
2. Be stealthy in the aisle seat
If you’re sitting in business class, chances are you’re surrounded by potential partners, investors, and future clients. Take a stealth gander at the laptop next to yours, or eavesdrop on a few of those last minute phone conversations.
Strike up a conversation with the most promising prospect, taking care to strategically leave your most recent project in plain view on your iPad.
3. Mind the time zone
It’s easy to get your time zones mixed up when you’re travelling, but it’s not easy to undue the annoyance you’ll incur should you ring a professional contact at 2am their time.
Make sure you understand the time difference at your destination and plan conference calls accordingly while you’re there.
4. Follow your boss’s lead
If travelling with your boss or other coworkers, pay particular attention to your professionalism. No matter how important the deal or how big the business meeting, travel has a way of bringing out the crazies – in everyone.
Check yourself when it comes to indulging in alcohol and other local, er, customs. Let your boss be your guide – if she drinks at dinner, you can indulge; just don’t end up naked on the streets of Taipei at four in the morning, wondering what the hell happened to your hotel room key.
5. Dress to (un)impress
Keep it professional, no matter how wild and crazy your destination may be. Vacationers headed for Miami or Rio can get away with string bikinis and Hawaiian print shirts. You, on the other hand, need to get down to business.
It’s also a good idea to consider local customs at your destination and plan your wardrobe accordingly. Armani suits in a developing country read a bit pompous, while no Armani suit in Paris reads a bit pauper.
6. Research local customs
Speaking of local customs, are you going to need to cover your head? Shake with your left hand? Avoid looking grown men in the eye?
In addition to your Google search of cultural faux pas in your destination, it’s a good idea to ask colleagues and co-workers who’ve been there what to expect.
If, with all of his advisors, President Obama still ended up chewing gum in Singapore, chances are good that you’ll offend someone too.
Find out what’s illegal, what’s immoral, and what’s unethical in a business situation. And work on a really good “Whoops! Silly me!” expression as a failsafe.
7. Know when it’s your turn to pay
In the business world, the person who initiated the meeting is on the hook when the check arrives. But that isn’t always the case in other countries.
In Taiwan, for instance, a pseudo-battle must ensue every time the check comes in a restaurant, with guest and host arguing furiously over who gets to pay the bill.
In Vietnam, it’s common for dinner guests to get up and leave the table before a meal is finished so they don’t’ have to pay, while birthday “parties” consist of the birthday boy or girl paying the way for each of their guests. (The latter happened to me – imagine my surprise when I thought I’d be treated on my birthday and ended up paying for 15 dinner guests!).
Needless to say, money is approached differently in different business settings, so do your homework or literally pay the consequences!
Business travel etiquette is constantly changing as our society becomes more and more globalised. Err on the side of caution when it comes to drinking, dressing, and aggressive selling. When in doubt, speak softly and carry a big credit card.