So you’re about to go on your first business trip. You know exactly what your meeting objectives are, who’ll be in the room, and where you’re staying afterwards – but do you know how to greet your client? How to dress? How to behave in meetings?
Business etiquette shouldn’t be an afterthought. Good manners are essential for getting ahead in the corporate world, and your grasp of business etiquette can make all the difference to winning – or losing – business. First impressions count, so check out this guide and make sure you’re representing your organization in the right way.
1. Arrive on time (at the very latest)
It’s rude to waste someone else’s time, wherever you are in the world. It doesn’t matter if you’re traveling to a meeting, a business lunch or a conference – you should always aim to arrive on time. Even better, try to get there five or 10 minutes early – then you’ll have time to compose yourself before the event kicks off.
Punctuality shows others that you value their time, while lateness comes across as inconsiderate. Of course, there might be a valid reason why you’re running late. If so, give the people you’re meeting plenty of notice.
One easy way to stay punctual is by using corporate travel apps such as CWT To Go™, which syncs with your work calendar to give you the reminders you need to stick to your work schedule and travel itinerary.
2. Adapt to local customs
Respect the fact you’re a guest in the place you’re visiting by making an effort to understand local customs. Even things that have nothing to do with the specific business reason for your trip – such as learning a local greeting or making an observation about your surroundings – will be appreciated. In certain cultures, there might be bigger considerations to bear in mind.
For example, it’s against Japanese business etiquette to pat a man on the back or shoulder, or make small talk about family, religion or politics. In others, you’ll need to respect the tipping culture, which can vary depending on the type of service provided. Apps like CWT To Go™ feature tip calculators to point you in the right direction and avoid making any faux pas.
3. Be professional
While shaking hands might seem like the universal way of establishing business rapport, it’s not appropriate everywhere in the world. Making a good first impression starts with your ability to greet in the proper way – so find out how the place you’re visiting does this.
For example, it’s Indian business etiquette to place both hands together and bow slightly, rather than shake hands. You can also be professional by giving others your complete attention when they’re speaking – resisting the urge to talk to someone else in the meeting, take a call or check your messages.
4. Dress appropriately
Striking the right balance between comfort and courtesy requires some thought about what to wear for a business meeting. Do your research and don’t make assumptions – the business etiquette for how to dress varies considerably from one country to the next.
For example, you might presume that some of the hottest countries encourage modest dressing – but that’s often not the case. Dressing appropriately generally means dressing respectably, and certainly keeping your knees and shoulders covered.
5. Be respectful
Being respectful to others makes you pleasant to work with and shows politeness. You should avoid raising your voice in a work environment – and certainly avoid using bad language – keeping your tone as neutral as possible. It’s also disrespectful to interrupt other people when they’re speaking.
Refrain from criticizing another country’s infrastructure or bureaucracy. Even if your clients think you have a point, they won’t appreciate you drawing attention to the fact. Complaining should be kept to a minimum, too, as it could be considered bad manners.
Respect also applies outside of the office – particularly when you’re entertaining a client at a restaurant or other venue. While it’s good to establish a relaxed rapport with the people you’re meeting, it’s important to ensure you remain professional at all times.
6. Use common sense
You’ll need common sense in a million and one different situations that spring up on your business trip. For example, it’s important to keep business conversations private. You never know who might be sitting next to you on the train, so wait until you’re back in your hotel before chatting to a co-worker about the meeting you’ve just attended.
If your client is paying for your hotel, don’t book the presidential suite in a five-star palace – they might see it as evidence that you’re overcharging. And be careful about what you’re sharing on social media. Showing off about the opulence of your hotel or badmouthing the people you’re meeting could have serious consequences.
7. Negotiate smartly
Business etiquette in meetings differs greatly between countries and industry sectors. Wherever you are, however, it’s vital that you gauge the atmosphere in the room and adjust your approach accordingly.
Try to be assertive without being aggressive – never interrupt anyone, and be diplomatic even when you disagree with what someone else is saying.
8. Watch your table manners
Every country has different customs and traditions when it comes to eating, so it’s essential you read up on these before you travel. Common table manners, such as not speaking with your mouth full, using your napkin and keeping your bag off the table, need to be observed at all times.
If you’ve brought your partner or co-worker with you on your trip, check they have an invite to the meal rather than assuming – it could make things awkward for everyone if you don’t. Plus, it’s important that you’re not seen to be taking advantage of a client’s hospitality.
While politeness alone won’t be enough to make your business trip a success, it’s certainly a factor in convincing clients that you and your company are people they want to do business with.
9. Comply with your company’s corporate travel policy
Your company should have a corporate travel policy that outlines clear rules on everything from making airline bookings to claiming expenses and accepting gifts – and it’s important to comply with these. Your corporate travel policy is designed primarily to keep you safe on the move. It also establishes key policies in areas such as:
Airline, rail, hotel and rental car reservations.
The use of other transportation, such as taxi cabs.
Rules for on-site spending, including meals, entertainment and phone calls.
Security relating to travel – both in terms of personal safety and work materials.
The rules around gifts and favors that may be bought or received during business travel, particularly in certain parts of the world.
The approval process that employees and managers need to follow.
The system for the payment of any expenses incurred during travel.
It’s essential to understand the dos and don’ts of local business etiquette so that you can conduct yourself professionally and represent your organization effectively. Get it right, and you could unlock more opportunities for your company – as well as boost your own career prospects.