Time Matters for Business Meetings

In January, we covered timeliness for business meetings in Europe and the UK. Our February issue took on Africa and The Middle East. This month, we are going to reach further to the Pacific, Asia and the Americas. I hope with this three part series, I will have covered most of the world. I know I may have overlooked some countries. It was not intentional, but for lack of information being readily available. I would certainly appreciate any additional information to come to me in a letter to the editor.

Photo courtesy of Arjan Richter via Flickr

Photo courtesy of Arjan Richter via Flickr

As I mentioned before, promptness for business meetings varies by cultures and countries and that is why I encourage one to err on the side of being prompt. Since I cannot begin to know or discover everything about every country, what I’m writing is based my on own experiences, friends, Internet research and books. It will be quite clear that I know more about some of these areas than others. Plus, with all that is happening in the world today, things change, and what may have been true a year or two ago may be on the verge of change.

One of the best tips I can offer is that if you know and understand the culture, it will help. If you cannot take someone being late as personal, that can help cement a business relationship. I have to admit, that is one of the most difficult aspects for me, as I respect time. Plus, in many cultures, men like to keep women waiting.

In general, this woman has, for the most part, learned patience. In this article, I will relay an example where I lost patience, but doing business as a woman could be an entire book in itself.

The Pacific and Asia

This region has a greater variety and diversity of races, religions, languages, and cultures than Africa, The Middle East, Africa and Europe. It is considered impolite to start talking business immediately. You may not notice, but your Asian counterpart will notice behavior, dress, and everything. Most importantly, do not cause anyone to lose face, as it will not be forgotten or forgiven. Make appointments and be punctual. Do not be offended if others are late.

Fortunately, English is the language of commerce throughout both Asia and the Pacific. But I’d suggest you read up on the country you are visiting to learn as much as you can about the local culture. Another tip is to have business cards printed in English and the local language of each country you are visiting. You will discover, you will use more business cards on an Asian trip than anywhere.

I’ve been to various parts of Asia many times; some only once, and others many return visits. I have found all business meetings to be formal and punctuality was expected.

Australia

I’ve only been to Australia twice. The recent visit, like the one ten years earlier, was in a completely different part of the country. I also have many Australian friends and have traveled with them. So this aspect is based on over fifty meetings and feedback from those I know.

Prior appointments are necessary and punctuality is highly regarded. Australians are direct and tell it like it is. The dress may be less formal than their British counterparts, but not necessarily. I was in many meetings where the dress was quite formal. Casual ones were more apt to be out in the bush. I personally find the Australians a delight to deal with and great with follow-through.

Bangladesh

Punctuality is held in high regard.

The People’s Republic of China

Generally, you will discover that your trip to China is extremely organized and punctuality is the utmost of importance. Prior appointments and confirmations are necessary. Do not expect for business to be concluded rapidly, as it generally takes a long time for a Chinese businessman to reach a decision. Your business meeting will be quite formal.

Send as much collateral as possible on the detailed topics to be discussed and your company. That will assist in ensuring the right people will be attending the meeting. Don’t expect your confirmation to come way in advance. It is a Chinese preference to wait until shortly before or even the day of the meeting to confirm the time and place.

Fiji

Fijians greet each other with a smile and raised eyebrows. Handshakes are appropriate. Remove your shoes before entering homes. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to secure information on business meetings. The culture is different and laid back. I’ve spoken with someone who has worked there for three years and he has visited all the various villages. Each has its own custom other than the smile and raised eyebrows. Punctuality is not important.

Hong Kong

Punctuality is very important in this culture and viewed as a form of respect. Allow for the congested streets and try to arrive a few minutes early. Observe the hierarchy of the office and do not try to engage in conversation that is too personal.

Photo courtesy of Arjan Richter via Flickr

Photo courtesy of Arjan Richter via Flickr

India

Be prompt, but be prepared to wait. Also, do not be upset if meetings are interrupted. Show respect and be willing to engage in small talk. India is a country that is growing and trying to westernize itself. You are dealing with a hierarchical society and it is reflected in management styles. The boss gives orders and they are to be followed to the letter, even if they are not accurate. The manager who acts like a boss is next in line. Take care to observe the hierarchy. Be aware that many centers and off-shore centers may be staffed by highly educated, intelligent and motivated graduates who may lack day-to-day commercial experience. Managers may be twenty-five and team members may be twenty-three. Their inexperience is just that, not incompetence. Work with them to get your problems solved. It may take a little longer, but you are dealing with intelligent individuals who are bringing cultural and westernized ways together in a challenging environment.

Malaysia

When making your appointments, plan to be punctual and confirm your prior appointment. While Malays and Indians usually have a more relaxed attitude toward punctuality, the Chinese are generally quite punctual. So err on the side of being punctual. Do not expect business decisions to be completed on your initial meeting. In order to build rapport, familiarity and trust, this is how business is done. Since Malaysia is a hierarchical culture, be sure to acknowledge and treat senior ranking individuals with the greatest of respect.

When I was first there in 1989, studying business in the Pacific Rim, I was traveling with my brother who had done consulting fifteen years earlier. Because it had been successful and he always treated those involved with respect, we were met with a brass band, had a special luncheon, and treated with the greatest warmth. As I saw with my own eyes, good business practices have lasting effects.

New Zealand

Make your appointments prior and confirm. It is advisable for visitors to arrive a little early. Being late can easily indicate you are unreliable. Whereas New Zealanders appear quite casual with each other, they tend to be more reserved. There will be some small talk, but polite and not too personal. They like directness, so have your facts, figures and terms clear—charm does not make the sale.

Pakistan

It has been my experience that Pakistanis are not the most time conscious. However, they will and do expect their Western visitors to arrive on time.

The Philippines

Time may seem to be flexible, but it is advisable to be punctual and allow plenty of time for traffic. Mid-morning and mid-afternoon are the best times. Be sure to confirm in advance.

Russia

Appointments are required and frequently take at least six weeks to arrange. Confirm when you arrive in the country and a day or two before. Be punctual. Schedules change and so can your meeting or be cancelled on short notice. Have material prepared in English and Russian.

Photo courtesy of martinak15 via Flickr

Photo courtesy of martinak15 via Flickr

Samoa

Make appointments and be prepared that your meeting may not start when scheduled. However it is important that you are there on time. If you are going to be late, call and furnish expected arrival time.

Singapore

Prior appointments are necessary and Western visitors are expected to be punctual. If you are a group, line up in order of rank so you can be led to your proper seat. Singaporeans understand American nuances, but do not find yourself being too frank in your approach or it could be considered disrespectful. I’ve personally found doing business in Singapore a pleasure and quite easy.

Global Etiquette with columnist Maralyn D Hill as featured in Luxe Beat Magazine

South Korea

Be sure you arrange your meetings well in advance and get confirmations. The best time for appointments is between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Being on time is very important. Keep in mind that your hosts have hectic schedules and this may cause them to be late. Don’t show your impatience or negative emotions. When you enter the room, the senior member of your group should go first and sit in the middle of the table. Understand that a personal relationship has to be built, and it may take many trips before you close a deal.

Sri Lanka

Prior appointments are definitely necessary and being punctual is considered polite and expected.

Tahiti

Tahiti is quite casual in practices. Politeness counts.

Taiwan

You need an appointment. It is fine to arrive a few minutes before or a minute or two after. Business relationships are based on respect and best for face-to-face meetings. Be sure to have a senior executive with you at your meeting. It is best if your presentations are in segments and directed toward the senior ranking attendee. Have all documents translated into Chinese.

Thailand

Punctuality is a sign of courtesy and prior appointments are required. Best to make a few days in advance, and then confirm on the day of the appointment. Be sure to allow extra time for traffic.

Tonga

Tonga is quite casual, but I’d suggest an appointment.

Central and South America

Whereas each country has its own personality and customs, one common denominator on punctuality is a customary thirty-minute delay.

Photo courtesy of Jason V via Flickr

Photo courtesy of Jason V via Flickr

Argentina

It is necessary to arrange prior appointments and confirm. It is very important to arrange these meetings through a third party, an enchufado. He acts as the middleman or point person in the industry, and it is not wise to approach a company directly. It will take trust building and time. Approach with patience and care.

Bolivia

You hosts may be late, but you, as a visitor, should be punctual. If you plan to do business in Bolivia, plan for numerous meetings first. Your hosts will really want to get to know you.

Brazil

Brazilians rarely start right in on the meeting. There is usually a lot of small talk first. Meetings tend to start late and go later. Never be the one to start the business discussion, let that be done by your host. Doing business in Brazil will take time, a lot of it. I mentioned I would share a personal experience and it is below—not my best example of patience.

Once while visiting Brazil on business, there was a gentleman who wanted to meet with me to discuss the investment projects we were pursuing. I explained I only had a limited time slot and he agreed. I arrived at his office ten minutes early, expecting to wait the ten minutes.  Thirty minutes later, I reminded his receptionist that I had to leave his office in an hour. Forty-five minutes later, I got up to walk out and she said, “You can’t leave, Mr. ___ is ready to see you now.”

I went in to meet with Mr. ___, who offered me tea, cookies, etc. to which I replied, “I’m sorry, we’ll need to reschedule, as I have to leave in ten minutes.” He expected me to reschedule my appointments and did not believe I’d leave. I did and we met the next day and he was only ten minutes late, which was acceptable.

Now I know Brazilians are more laid back, and in my eight days of business meetings, most started within ten minutes or so of the scheduled time, exchanging pleasantries first and then getting down to business.  Social schedules for the evening were more like twenty to thirty minutes later than scheduled. My overall experience was wonderful and the people delightful.

Chile

Prior appointments are required and be sure to confirm. Chilean businessmen respect punctuality. You may find them quite formal and direct eye contact is important. Do not use first names unless invited to do so. Have the back of your card translated to Spanish and keep in good condition, or it will reflect poorly on you.

Colombia

You need an appointment and meetings may well have an agenda, but you will enjoy coffee first. The agenda may or may not be followed. This was quite a challenge for me with the first two or three meetings. They last as long as needed and that can be an hour or three hours. I’d personally suggest reading a book or taking a class on body language with a Spanish instructor, if you plan on establishing good business relationships. The Colombians are very conscious of protecting relationships and saving face. If you are used to speaking openly, it could be viewed as aggressive.

Photo courtesy of Wayne Silver via Flickr

Photo courtesy of Wayne Silver via Flickr

Costa Rica

Costa Ricans are quite punctual and expect the same. Business lunches are short and business dinners are frequent. Even through English will generally be understood, have your business cards printed in English and Spanish. Titles are important and should be included on business cards.

Ecuador

Make appointments two weeks in advance and confirm the day before. Be sure your business cards are printed in Spanish on one side, the side you present to your Ecuadorian host. It is common for business meetings to be at lunch. Let the host make the first toast. Address people by their titles.

El Salvador

Make appointments and confirm. Meetings generally start on time and are structured. Senior individuals are introduced first, according to rank for both sides. Initially, the meeting will focus on conversation not related to business. This aids in building rapport. Frequently, these sessions are continued over a meal. If invited, you must accept or you will kill a relationship that was on its way to going somewhere. Generally, it is the senior person who makes the decision. Salvadorans give great credence to “gut-feeling” and not all facts and data.

Guatemala

Make prior appointments and confirm. Business meetings and attendees are usually punctual. Male attendees will sit to the right of the host and women to the left. It is common to have a business breakfast or lunch, as they are preferred to dinners.

Honduras

Appointments are necessary and you should show up early, but do plan to wait. Hondurans will be well dressed and expect the same of you. If your suit is wrinkled, iron it or get it pressed. Do not plan a meeting after this one, as the one you are in can go on and on. Hondurans want to build trust, so don’t rush to negotiating. In any case, do not expect to walk away with a contract. It will be decided afterwards through a chain of command by a higher up.

Mexico

Appointments matter and should be at least two weeks in advance. Reconfirm the week before. Confirm once you arrive in Mexico with local contact information for secretary. Arrive on time, but expect to wait close to thirty minutes. Meetings may be postponed with little advance warning and initial meetings are formal. Have written material in both Spanish and English. Even if there is a agenda, it may not be followed.

Connections matter more than business contacts, and are necessary to facilitate business success. Pick your connection wisely, as you will be judged by that individual and next to impossible to change an opinion. At the meeting be sure to include an upper level executive. Once you get through the first meeting, the higher-level executive need not necessarily attend. Dress as you would in Europe, with dark colored suits.

Photo courtesy of Fabio Do Carmo via Flickr

Photo courtesy of Fabio Do Carmo via Flickr

Nicaragua

Make and confirm appointments. All meetings are pre-arranged. Like many Latin countries, time is more relaxed, and it is quite acceptable to arrive twenty minutes late for a meeting. Thirty minutes is the outside that is acceptable. More than that is considered an insult unless the excuse is a good one. Do not dress formally, business casual is fine.

Panama

Appointments are necessary. Titles should be included on business cards and people should be addressed by titles, Doctor, Professor, etc. Meetings begin with small talk. Dress is conservative. Foreign businesswomen should include spouses in invitations to business dinners, and that is always.

Paraguay

Appointments are necessary. Be on time, as punctuality matters for the visitor. Paraguayans might be somewhat late and appointments frequently start ten to twenty minutes late. Connections are very important, and more important than business relationships. Make time for small talk before meetings.

Peru

Your business meeting in Peru may be set for lunch and could be from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. or 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. You will be expected to be on time for meetings, but your hosts may be late.

Uruguay

Appointments are necessary. You will be expected to be punctual, but Uruguayans typically are somewhat late for business meetings. Be prepared to wait. Like many of the Latin countries, small talk comes first. You may need a translator unless your Spanish is excellent. Have your presentation materials prepared in Spanish.

The Caribbean

This area comprises territories and independent countries. Associations have been with the UK, France, The Netherlands, and the United States. Races, languages and cultures vary. I would check each island before visiting. Prior appointments are necessary, but punctuality is not closely adhered to in much of the region.

Haiti

In all cases, meetings should be scheduled ahead of time, and punctuality is expected. If you are going to be late for any reason, contact the receptionist to reschedule. There is quite a bit of small talk before business begins. Whereas a suit jacket is not required, a shirt and tie and pantsuit or blazer and skirt for women are expected. Have one side of your business card in French.

Puerto Rico

Appointments are necessary, but so are introductions. Puerto Ricans prefer to work with friends and family, so connections matter. Managers may play a larger role than outward appearances indicate.

North America

Comprised of Canada and the United States, we have a massive combination of cultures.

Canada

In most of Canada, punctuality is expected, and meetings generally start on a timely basis. If you are going to be late, be sure to let your colleague know. Canadians are known for organizational skills, and extraneous discussion during meetings is kept to a minimum.

United States

Appointments need to be made, time is money. Plan to arrive promptly. Time and punctuality are important to Americans and more so in the Northeast and Midwest. In that area, being late is viewed as disrespect. In the Southern and Western states, people are somewhat more relaxed. But I would err on punctuality, even if you have to wait a few minutes. Meetings are taken seriously and if there is an agenda, it will be followed. Have statistics to back up your data, and keep in mind that there is an emphasis on controlling time. Business is conducted rapidly. Relationships may develop after a contract has been signed and you’ve proven yourself.

This three part series focused on countries worldwide and timeliness of meetings. I did throw in some additional information. Each country has so many nuances from dress to greetings, I’d encourage you to read about them, if you plan to do business. Luxe Beat certainly d appreciate your feedback and you can write to me at luxebeatmagazine@gamail.com

Note: Information for this article was compiled from my own experience, Do’s and Taboos Around The World”, associates, and double-checked from approximately twenty-two different Internet sites.