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Bar News - May 23, 2008

Tips on Improving Relations With Clients from Other Cultures

Chances are that the people that you deal with on a day-to-day basis increasingly are a blend of nationalities, cultures and religions. The "melting pot" of the United States and the ensuing diversity is only going to increase. Even if you are not traveling overseas to do business, the US provides ample opportunities for multicultural business transactions every day.

Here are a few ways to improve your cultural protocol and improve relations with clients who have ties to cultures other than your own:

Importance of religion. Religion in other cultures is often the basis for work and existence. Respect other people’s religious holidays and be aware of the days they celebrate so it doesn’t conflict with a major deadline or important meeting.

Family time. Family can be a major factor in some people’s daily life in ways that you may not anticipate. Be respectful of the time they want to spend with their family and work within an agreed-upon schedule.

Language. Avoid slang. We all tend to have certain accents and local expressions – take care to not constantly bring these unfamiliar words and phrases into conversation.

Appearance. It should go without saying that you need to appropriately addressed for any meetings, and be sure that includes anyone who works for you. In many countries, your status and the respect you receive depend on your appearance.

Telephone manner. Use proper telephone etiquette, answering with your name and/or company name. During the conversation, provide 100 percent attention. Multi-tasking could result in you missing an important cue, or causing a miscue. Also, this will allow you to focus on your communication—speak in full sentences; avoid jargon, abbreviations or acronyms that might pose a stumbling block. Be sure to follow up within 24 hours even if you do not have the answer for your client within that time.

Punctuality. Be punctual and careful in setting and conveying meeting times and dates. Many other countries use a 24-hour clock to tell time. They are accustomed to our clock, but give them a moment to register and clarify they are hesitant. In many other countries, it is customary to list the day before the month and year instead of our tradition of month/day/year. Spell out the month to avoid any confusion.

Meeting while eating. Don’t rush into business as soon as you sit down. Enjoy the conversation before moving to a business discussion. Take your time eating. Place your silverware on the plate during discussions. Order easy-to-eat food so you can concentrate on conversation than on the food. Avoid spreading out materials on the table. Keep everything in a portfolio that can be easily placed on your lap or underneath your chair.

Derived from an article, "Internationalize Your Business: How to Work Diverse Clients Without Leaving the US" by Colleen A. Rickenbacher, a business etiquette consultant. Contact her at or call 214-341-1677.

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