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Being Courteous toForeign Business People

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Let's assume that you are fully familiar with the rules of good business behaviour in the United Kingdom. Your boss asks you to deal with an important customer from Japan, including entertaining him and his wife. You behave exactly as you would with a local customer but the visit is a disaster. What went wrong?

You made the crucial error of believing that you only need to change your behaviour when visiting people in their own country. There are, of course, many aspects of business (work­ing hours, legal and procedural differences, trade practices, and so on) to which the visitor must adapt if he is to succeed. Equally, there are habits and attitudes so deeply engrained in his own culture that he cannot change his reaction if he finds something embarrassing or unacceptable.

It is the job of the host to make his business guest feel at ease and there is no excuse for not being familiar with the more important aspects of good manners that your visitors will expect from you. You should also find that your guest is impressed by the attention you have given to his needs − and maybe you'll land that Japanese order after all!

English is a world language that is widely used in business. We also have an increasing number of people in business who are fluent in at least one other foreign language. For many, however, the likelihood is that he will not be able to speak the language of the visitor he is about to entertain. What should he do?

Here are some simple guidelines:

Never assume that your visitor will be able to converse effectively in English but find out before he arrives if you are likely to have a communication problem.

• If you are likely to need an interpreter, look for one first among the staff of your own firm before using outside agencies.

Confirm with the visitor that he has no objection to an interpreter being used and check that he is happy with the person chosen.

• Prepare relevant documents in both languages and translate minutes and other records into the visitor's language. This will avoid any serious misunderstand­ings later.

• Learn some simple phrases of greetings and thanks in your visitor's language. The time and effort involved will be more than repaid by their appreciation of the gesture you make.

Apologise to your visitor for not speaking his language, however obscure it might be; don't use inter­preters for social occasions since you will almost certainly find that the struggle to make yourself under­stood without the benefit of a common language is an excellent way to make friends with your guest.


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