There is much talk today about being “global”. What does global mean? A man of the world? Every country is so different. This also applies to every town and city. The skills a businessman needs to be successful in international business go beyond globality. This list is not exhaustive, but it is based on more than a dozen years of international business experience.
For the international businessman, travel is a way of life. Long-haul flights can be particularly brutal. It is best to arrive one day before important meetings or conferences in order to adapt to possible time shifts. Eat, sleep, work and read in the air, but do everything in moderation. Gluttony in air travel is widespread among international travelers. The only thing you can’t do is train in an airplane.
Stay where your host is, whether a local office or a client recommends it. While cost plays a role, security, comfort for meeting places and services are also important. This is the home outside the home, so choose it with care.
Eat in moderation. Business trips are not the time to catch up on every diet you’ve ever had. There is a temptation to eat more than usual. On the other hand, when having had people who live locally, whether colleagues or customers, ask what they recommend when they eat together. Apart from allergies one should be open to local cuisine.
Some cultures drink more than Americans. Some drink less. And some don’t drink at all. The best advice is to drink in moderation or not at all. Similar to eating, international business trips are not the right time to break your college drinking record. It’s not healthy and insulting for customers and colleagues.
Even after the business casual trend, most American businessmen dress much more casually than international businessmen. Ask local colleagues or even customers what clothes are appropriate. If you don’t know, put on traditional business clothes (suits for men and women). This can always be put on as needed. Dress as you please, but more importantly, dress appropriately. The same applies to evening meals and events outside business hours.
Be early at the meeting. Do not leave until the meeting is over. Even if other people go to answer calls, you should only do so during scheduled breaks. Eat moderately when lunch is brought along. Do not drink too much coffee, but bottled water is good. Clean up after the meeting after you. And don’t sit in the meeting with your laptop and read your e-mail. That’s rude. Make sure you bring lots of business cards with you. Introduce yourself to everyone. Don’t interrupt, raise your voice and don’t swear. If you have other calls, plan them for the evening when you are not meeting customers or colleagues.
In the evening it is common to have dinner with clients or colleagues. After dinner there is often time to relax, move and catch up on work before the next day. If you are staying over a weekend or have a day off, visit local historical sites, museums, cultural events as well as shops and restaurants. Staying at the hotel at work is not healthy and does not make it an internationally oriented or cultivated hotel.
Find out how your customers and colleagues prefer to communicate when they are not personal. Email is common today. Telephone conferencing is also important. Video conferencing can be very effective. Snail mail and faxes are less common today, but still necessary from time to time. Keep all communication clear, precise and to the point. At international telephone conferences you should listen more than talk. And don’t interrupt. Never. Take notes or minutes and make sure they are distributed within one business day of the call. Never write jokes, gag, anything obscene or indecent by e-mail. Do not swear or raise your voice on calls or video calls. Listening and patience are valued in most non-American cultures.