Nice Doing Business with You: Tips for Blending in in Europe
Ask five different people how many countries are in Europe and you’re likely to get five different answers. Why? Well, it all depends on things like how you define a country (is it a country or a microstate?) and whether you count border countries that are also considered part of Asia.
Generally, the most inclusive answer is about 50 countries, and 28 of them are members of the European Union. Of course, each diverse country comes with its own unique culture, heritage, lifestyle and work ethic. For instance, starting a meeting on time in Spain or Italy isn’t all that important, but Germans stick to a strict schedule. And northern European countries generally eat meals earlier than their southern counterparts.
While the particulars vary, there are some commonalities you can count on. Whether you’re relocating for another position, meeting customers or working with your Europe-based team, here are some pieces of advice that will ensure business success across most EU member states.
Every meal is the most important one of the day.
You know how business in the US is often conducted on the back nine of the nearest golf course? In Europe, it’s conducted over a plate. Much of the trust-building and even decision-making happens while eating and drinking. It’s a strategic sizing-up of one’s business partners, and it will often make or break the success of a project. So suck up your jet lag and put on something nice, because you’re going to dinner.
Time is money (but not the way you think).
In the US, there’s a lot of focus on limiting meetings, having more concise meetings, keeping meetings from running over, and so on. Leave that thinking behind when you step off the plane. Europeans prefer to take their time and allow ample time for debate, digestion of ideas, reflection and processing—believing the art of discussion will lead to better results. So be patient and don’t micromanage your time. Otherwise you risk ostracizing business partners or worse, killing the deal altogether.
It’s WHAT you know, not WHO you know.
A European will measure your worth by how much you know about current events, the world, and historical happenings. A good businessperson is well-educated, intellectual and able to discuss topics of the day. Inform yourself before you go abroad so you can speak to the context you’re in. More importantly, bring something new to the table—don’t just repeat the latest headlines. Europeans value knowledge, and you’ll impress them greatly if they walk away feeling they learned something, even if it has nothing to do with the business at hand.
Pretend you’re at a wedding.
When you’re traveling for business, it’s best to err on the side of formality. Like a wedding, it’s an awkward situation all around: not everyone knows each other, everyone is well-dressed, a bit stiff, and on very good behavior. Europeans like more formal greetings, handshakes and kisses (even in business), and proper table manners. Be sure to brush up on appropriate etiquette (and chew with your mouth closed).
Don’t dress to impress.
Dress to blend in. Europeans don’t like overly showy clothing and accessories, so aim for subtle elegance. Wear dark or neutral colors—think Hugo Boss or Jill Sander—minimal accessories, and lose the bling. Classic, high-quality leather shoes, bags and watches are always in style. Save the flashier stuff for a night on the town when you’re back at home.
For more information about doing business in Europe, contact us for a consultation or workshop: info.lamsonconsulting.com