While leisure travel can be an ideal time to kick back and let down your guard, your guard had better not be going anywhere during a business trip. As a business traveler, you represent your company during every stage of the journey. Everything you say or do can impact your company’s reputation and your eventual success. You can ensure both the company reputation and your success remain strong by following a few straightforward business trip etiquette tips.
DRESS THE PART
Business casual is the dress code while on a plane or on the road (although remember that you never know who you’ll be sitting next to on a plane, so be prepared). Business attire you’d wear to work is what you’ll want to wear to meetings, seminars and other professional events. Dressing too casually can be an uncomfortable mistake, as it can:
- Be considered a sign of disrespect
- Cause your clients or colleagues not to take you seriously
- Make you feel (and act) less professionally than you would in appropriate business attire
Remember, you can always take off a jacket or a tie if you arrive and people look more casual than you, but you can’t put on a tie if you don’t have one.
SHOW UP A SHADE EARLY
Being on time for business commitments is good. Being a little early is even better. Showing up a tad ahead of time ensures you’re fully prepared and ready to get working. It also gives you breathing room in case you encounter unexpected delays. Also remember that in some countries, particularly in southern Europe, the tradition is for meetings to be less punctual, so don’t become frustrated if this happens.
RESEARCH THE CULTURE
When travelling overseas, it’s polite to learn about local cultural practices and customs of your destination. Pay particular attention to:
- Use of titles and names
- Negotiating styles
- Gift-giving customs
- Communication preferences
- Social structure
Here are some examples, which may seem strange to American business travellers, but could score you major points with your hosts:
- Japanese culture is very formal so expect each of your counterparts to bow during an introduction. Wait for them to initiate a handshake because it is less common, and sometimes avoided, in business. Business card exchange is also much more formal. Present your card with two hands while facing your colleague, and also take cards with two hands, and read them carefully before putting them down.
- When travelling to China, bring a small gift from your country (but not a watch or clock, as they signify death) to business meetings. The Chinese will decline a gift three times before finally accepting, so as not to appear greedy. You will have to continue to insist they accept. Once the gift is accepted, express gratitude.
- Be aware of personal space norms. In Brazil, close personal contact is the norm for business meetings, whereas in other countries, particularly east Asia and northern Europe, personal space should be respected.
LET THE HOST PAY THE BILL
When it comes time to picking up the tab for a business lunch or dinner, the person who extended the invitation should be the one to pay for the fare. If no one at the table is making a move, you may offer to pay. You can suggest dividing the bill evenly amongst all parties, but never ask the waiter to provide separate checks.
BEWARE OF GENDER-RELATED FAUX PAS
Social gender rules don’t apply to a professional business setting, which means you don’t want to follow rules such as pulling out chairs for female guests. Gender blindness should be applied, with males and females treated equally. It is OK, however, to hold open doors for guests of either gender. Being on your best professional behavior throughout your entire trip is a must, and that’s easiest to do with a solid lineup of etiquette tips and remembering you’re travelling strictly for business.
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