Languages & Cultural Blog

Business Etiquette - How to Gain that Extra Edge


Often behavior that is interpreted as rude or offensive is unintentional. What is perfectly reasonable to one culture can be highly inappropriate to another. So where does this leave us when working and living in multi-cultural companies or cities?

Nowhere is the lack of culture awareness more evident or more problematic than in the world of business. Building trust and effective relationships is key to business success, yet it is hard to develop relationships when behavior is not understood or misinterpreted.

Check out our 7 global guidelines to make sure that you fit in wherever you go, with tips to come out on top, culturally speaking.

 Growth of "Global Business Etiquette"

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We often don't realize that our expectations of behavior are culturally based. For example, a Westerner may expect a firm handshake and an exchange of business cards during introductions. Arriving to one a meeting late is hugely disrespectful, as is anything deemed to be wasting his or her time. They want an immediate response to an email, short and focused meetings, eye contact and ‘sugar coated’ news.

When expectations are not met, too often people are judged as being rude or incompetent, rather than questioning whether their expectations of business conduct may be different from our own. Could it be possible that the way we do business might not be the only or correct way?

Globalization has resulted in an increase of cultures being brought together to do business and negotiate deals. What is emerging is global business etiquette; a way to behave that is unlikely to offend the variety of cultures you encounter in the business world.

1. 8 Ways to Make a First Great Impression

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  1. Sit and stand straight. Good posture is a sign of confidence.
  2. Make appropriate eye contact.
  3. Control your body movement. Gestures are fine, but don’t fidget.
  4. Wear clothes that are clean, unwrinkled, and stain-free.
  5. Make sure that your shoes are clean and polished.
  6. Hair and fingernails must be clean. No chipped polish, if you wear any.
  7. Have a pleasant expression on your face and in your voice.
  8. If you enter a meeting or reception, look like you belong there. Greet people and smile.

2. Remembering Names is Key


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  • Repeat the name after you’ve been introduced to the person. Then use it again as soon as possible to underline the name in your memory. Repetition helps.
  • Look at the person as you say their name. Note anything visual about that person that will help you anchor that name in your memory.
  • If you are given a business card at some point in the conversation, take time to look at the card and the person’s name. For visual learners, actually seeing the name helps keep it in your memory.
  • If you have a journal, get in the habit of writing down the names of the people you meet at a function or during the day.
  • You can include something you learned about them to help with making the connection, like the type of car their drive or that you met them on their birthday.

3. Phone Etiquette

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  • When calling someone, don’t make them guess who you are. Identify yourself.
  • Respect others' time. When placing a call, after identifying yourself, ask, "Do you have a minute?"
  • Ask permission to put someone on hold. Don’t just make a statement like, “Hold, please.”
  • After placing someone on hold and returning to the line, say "Thanks for waiting." Allow them to acknowledge your return rather than saying, "I'm back,” and jumping back into conversation.”
  • When screening calls, ask, "Who's calling, please?" rather than, "Who is this?"

4. Dressing to Impress

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  • Consider your work environment
  • Strive for consistency
  • Check the dress code wherever you are headed
  • Learn how to sew buttons on and how to iron
  • Keep it understated
  • Dress for the job you want, not the one you have
  • Be an ambassador

5. Five Factors of a Handshake

To shake hands or not to shake hands. That is the question. Once you have answered this question, then feel free to follow the handshake rules below.



i. Degree of Firmness

Your grip should be firm, rather than weak. However, you don’t want your handshake to be painful to the other person. Consideration is appreciated. Be especially considerate if you are shaking hands with someone in a receiving line who has many more hands to shake, someone who is wearing a lot of rings, or someone who is obviously elderly and perhaps fragile.

ii. Dryness of Hand

We all prefer to shake a hand that is dry. While you typically don’t want to obviously dry your hands before greeting someone, this is perfectly acceptable if you have been holding a cold glass. Similarly, if you are at the buffet table and have been eating, it is expected that you would wipe your hand on your napkin before extending it to be shaken.

iii. Depth of Grip

A handshake is palm to palm. Generally you will place your hand so that the web between your thumb and forefinger meets the web of the other person’s hand, briefly. Your hand remains perpendicular. If your palm is facing up, this may be construed as a sign of submissiveness. Similarly, if your palm is on top, it can be seen as a sign of aggression.

iv. Duration of Grip

The perfect handshake is about 3 seconds. You can gently pump once or twice but this is not necessary. Then pull back your hand, even if you are still talking.

v. Eye Contact

While this will vary from culture to culture, in North America we expect the person shaking our hand to make eye contact.

6. Seven Hot Dining Tips

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  1. When inviting a client to lunch, remember that the restaurant you select is acting as an extension of your company.
  2. When escorted to a table, allow your guests to walk behind the host who is seating you. When finding a table on your own, take the lead.
  3. Once everyone is seated, place your napkin on your lap.
  4. When making a food recommendation, recognize that most guests take cues from you regarding price range and alcohol.
  5. When the server asks for your meal order before your guests', it's the perfect time to say, "I'd like my guests to order first." Besides being appropriate, it's lets the server know that the bill should be left with you at the end of the meal.
  6. When reaching for the bread basket, salad dressing, etc., offer them to your guests before using them yourself.
  7. Tip adequately. Treat the server as one of your employees. It's a small price to pay for good service, personal attention and, hopefully, the contract that you land!

7. Making Small Talk

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What Works?


  • As important as what you say is how you say it. Wear a smile. It is always becoming to your voice.
  • If you find yourself alone, look for others who look similarly disengaged or join a group with an odd number of people. You could also pass the cheese tray or sample the buffet table.
  • One tip that often works is to imagine you are host or hostess. Now you will be less worried about yourself and more concerned about other people.

What Doesn’t Work?


  • Don’t attempt to make a derogatory remark under the guise of humor (that’s sarcasm).
  • Don’t try to shock.
  • Lengthy emotional debates will not contribute to the gathering. Death, politics, religion, illness, and children usually head the list of subjects to be avoided.

Exit Lines

No matter how seriously you try, not all conversations can be made into engaging discussions. Eventually even good conversations may come to an end. Tell the other person how much you have enjoyed speaking with them and go on to meet other people.


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In response to this global trend there has been an increase demand in Business Etiquette training. Through this training, professionals learn the correct protocol and proper behavior, giving them a competitive edge and the confidence to interact and communicate positively in a business setting. For example: how to leverage cultural intelligence in the hospitality and retail industries.

Every culture has different expectations regarding dress, business meeting conduct, negotiations, social settings, introductions, treatments of peers, subordinates and superiors, business correspondence and business cards – to name a few areas that are problematic.

The person who makes an effort to understand global business etiquette and makes sure they make time for cultural intelligence is the person who will have the extra edge.

 Check out the Cudoo Blog for cultural business etiquette tips for different countries!

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