- Preparing and Organizing the Message
- Creating and Using Visual Aids
- Controlling Stress
- Refining Delivery
Skills: eye contact, voice, gestures, posture, movement
- Preparing For and Handling Questions
- Managing Difficult/Challenging Questions or Audience
GOING TO EUROPE ON BUSINESS! Are You Really Ready?
by Cindy Steiner, M.A.
International Communications Expert
First of all, what are you up
against? Let's look at some stereotypes on both sides of the
Atlantic that can influence your business dealings.
What do Europeans think
"They're extremely arrogant.
They think everyone in the world should speak English." Of course,
we don't have the luxury of t.v. in several languages just at the
flip of a channel and countries just a few miles apart where they
speak different languages.
"They're superficial and
insincere. They smile too much; they're too friendly and casual.
They must be phony because no one can smile that much and be
"They're materialistic and
spoiled. They collect material possessions and wear all the jewelry
they own all at once. All their casual attire must have designer
labels showing in conspicuous places."
"They're loud." Have you ever
been on a European train with a group of Americans? They really
aren't what you'd call "soft-spoken".
"They're naive. They lack
sophistication, worldly wisdom; yet, their naive optimism is
"They lack culture and
tradition." Of course, if these Europeans ever visit the expansive
geography we have in the U.S., they quickly realize we have a vast
variety of regional cultures - hence, no one single American
culture. And, as for tradition, the U.S. is a young country, but
don't forget the saying, "Tradition impedes progress!"
"They're too fast, unrelaxed,
speedy. They eat fast, work fast, and they have no patience. They
live for the here and now."
What do Americans think
"They are stuffy." No, not
really, they're just more formal than we are.
"They're snobbish." Actually
they are just more reserved and discreet.
"They're cold and distant."
They just take their time to get to know you.
"They're too traditional" True,
change is frightening. It has worked this way for many years and it
still does, so why change. As the French say, "Plus que ca change,
plus c'est la meme chose."
"They're very sophisticated,
worldly-wise." True, it's easier for them to know other cultures and
languages with borders so close. Travel the equivalent of the length
of California and you've covered two or three countries and
"They're slow." Quality of
relationship is important. Service is definitely interpreted
differently than in the U.S. Europeans might say,"Fast service?
Those speedy, unrelaxed Americans!"
Though stereotypes can
definitely pose problems in your business transactions, fore-warned
What are some differences in
If we were to propose a
mathematical formula for SUCCESS, it might go something like this:
Work+Family+Time=Quality of Life
In other words, Americans
believe that success is measured by how much money we earn for all
the work we put in, and it must be earned ASAP. Whereas, Europeans
measure success by how much time they have to spend with their
families - work is only a means to an end. We Americans often get
caught up in the syndrome of "Live to work" instead of "Work to
An interesting article in the
Wall Street Journal a few years back illustrates this difference of
"Americans commonly are granted just 10 days off after one year of
service, increasing to 25 days after 25 years on the job. But in
Europe it's common to get as much as 30 days off right from the
start... Americans see vacations as an 'element of compensation'
that must be earned, while Europeans consider it a 'right of
As you can see, our
interpretation of WORK is quite different from that of Europeans.
With understanding of these differences in values, you can avoid
some difficulty in your business dealings.
What should you know before
you even arrive at your client's office?
Let's begin with the "Five
Ws": Who, What, Where, When, Why.
Who is your contact and
how do you pronounce his or her name?
What is your objective and that of your contact? What are
his/her needs? What do you expect out of this first meeting?
Where is this city, street, office and how do you get there?
Is it easier to take public transport? How is the parking situation?
When is the meeting - be punctual! Better yet, be early!
Why were you asked to come or why have you asked for this
meeting? Why should your contacts want to listen to you? What's in
it for them?
And language? Do you speak
Chances are you don't. So how
do you bridge that gap? Simple solution to break the ice: learn a
few phrases in their language, like "hello", "thank you", "pleased
to meet you", "it was a pleasure" and they will be so impressed that
you at least tried.
Of course, your first written
correspondence with them was in their language; you'll use
interpreters if necessary; and, all your promotional literature,
visuals and presentation information are bilingual. Good, you're
fine so far. Now, speak slowly and clearly, and avoid slang and
jargon. You're on the right track.
What to wear?
Dress conservatively and formally. Above all, don't be flashy - play
down the jewelry. One American executive I know who travels often to
Italy for business has a good solution to his wardrobe dilemma: he
says he simply dresses as they do. When in Rome...
What about greetings and
Use last names only! Never
address someone by his/her first name unless told to do so. I lived
in Europe for many years and never even heard the first names of my
neighbors and colleagues. Most company rosters have last names with
only the first initials listed. It is considered too familiar and
rude to use someone's first name unless mutually agreed upon.
This formality is built into
the structure of the languages themselves. For example, in French,
German, Italian, Spanish and in many other languages, there is a
formal form for our word "you" and an informal form. Use the formal
form and the last names only and you will avoid insulting your
contacts. If by chance you do get to first name basis, be sure not
to shorten double first names: "Hans Peter" is not "Hans". That
would be like calling "Helen" "Hel" for short!
As for greetings, shake hands
all round like in the U.S., when you first meet or enter the room
and also when you leave - shake everyone's hand again.
What about your business
Adapt your materials and
Be sure to make necessary
conversions: convert weights and measures to the metric system; list
prices in U.S. dollars with local currency equivalence and current
rate of exchange specified; and change temperatures from Fahrenheit
Remember that the VCR system is not like ours so your video
equipment won't work in Europe. Electricity is 220 volts, not 110
volts, so be careful not to blow up your electrical equipment. Paper
size is different - longer and narrower than in the U.S., so
photocopies have black edges and our paper doesn't fit in their
Watch abbreviations and punctuation marks. We use the pound sign (#)
to mean "number", but they don't so they wonder what you mean when
you use it. Our comma is their period in numerals -1,000 = 1.000 in
Europe and decimals 1.5 = 1,5 (1 1/2) in Europe. And, of course, the
date is written day first, then month, then year.So if your
appointment is for 2/3/98, it is March 2, 1998 not February 3, 1998.
It's safest to write the dates like this: 2 March 1998 to avoid
Adapt your presentation
Your style should be
"soft-sell". You want to stress quality over price and show
stability of your company and a long-term commitment.
Don't open a presentation with a joke. Jokes are often
misunderstood; also, Europeans don't take you seriously if you're
Use moderate gesturing and less Hollywood - the more serious you
appear, the more seriously you will be taken.
Many European executives have told me that the biggest difference
they see between the way Americans do business and the way Europeans
do business is this: "Americans oversell and Europeans undersell."
Keep this in mind and try to find the happy medium.
There are lots of holidays in
Europe, so be sure you don't schedule your trip to fall on their
days off. Not only national holidays need to be considered, but also
local, religious and personal ones.
Two-hour lunches are not
uncommon, so relax and enjoy.
Breakfast meetings have not
exactly hit the Continent yet, so don't propose to meet for a
Phone calls between 12 noon and
2PM often go unanswered, so don't call between those hours to avoid
The 24-hour clock is used, so
your meeting for 2:30 PM is for 14:30.
Women in business are few and
far between compared to the U.S., so don't be surprised if your top
female executive is taken a bit lightly. Depending on the country, I
personally have found this often is the case. Try to find out what
your contact thinks about women in business before you send her
over. Sad, but true - I know from first-hand experience!
Service is interpreted
differently than it is in the U.S. Here, in the U.S., it is to be
fast and often saccharin-sweet. In Europe, it is to be efficient,
not very fast and often not at all "sweet." Be patient! For example,
in restaurants it is considered rude for the waiter to put the bill
on the table; you must ask for it.
All of these tips and tidbits
of information are, of course, rash generalizations because each
country in Europe is infinitely different, as is each individual.
But generally speaking, this information should at least ease your
entry and facilitate your business transactions with European
So remember: be punctual,
formal in manner and in dress, discreet, sincere, flexible, and very
patient. You're on the track to enjoying a fruitful business
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