Global Business Etiquette & Intercultural Communication
by Hasan Bilokcuoglu

In today's world we are living in, particularly in the business context, there has been an increasingly interest towards the target culture and their business etiquette in both the advanced and the developing countries. Due to the growth in recent technologies, the Notion of global market, which are interconnecting the countries together, and various consumer needs, it becomes essential to appreciate, understand and get familiar with the target's cultural diverges so as to maintain sustainability in the international business environment. The most recent studies demonstrate that there are three important factors that are leading to failure of international business affairs: deficiency in intercultural skills and competence, poor communication skills at a global level, and failure in practicing acceptable etiquette in business negotiations. Thus, business from various countries should acknowledge and become aware of the significance of understanding the cultures and values of their targets. In addition, they should build up sensivity and decorum in their intercultural communication.
This paper aims at reviewing the importance and the role of etiquette in international business affairs explicating the recent opportunities, challenges, and benefits in understanding proper international etiquette. Moreover, the paper examines the recent literature on the following countries' business etiquette, Chinese, English, German, and Japanese business etiquette, as well as some significant business failures because of ignorance in cultural awareness.

Keywords: Etiquette, cultural diversity, intercultural communication, business negotiation

Due to the increasing number of countries involving in worldwide business transactions in today's world, intercultural communication and etiquette have become a fundamental topics that need to be analysed critically in order to achieve and establish a strong business relationship in international ventures. Most of the time, the international business settings become rather complex and challenging since nations have their own standards, expectations, and language patterns. Chaney and Martin (2007) define 'international business etiquette' as manners and behaviour considered acceptable behaviour in internationally social and business situations.

Etiquette is defined as the forms, manners, and ceremonies established by convention as acceptable or required in social relationships, in a professions, or in official life. (
An online business dictionary ( defines the term 'business etiquette' as expected behaviours and expectations for individual actions within society, group, or class. Within a place of business, it involves treating co-workers and employer with respect and courtesy in a way that creates a pleasant work environment for everyone.

According to David Ingram (2009), business etiquette is an integral part of different 'countries and regions' business culture. Etiquette encompasses the prescriptive elements of culture –the things people are expected to do and say, or to avoid doing saying.
Chaney and Martin (2007) believe that proper social behaviour involves cultural differences in marketing introductions, giving presents, tipping etiquette, travelling, exchanging business cards, communicating interculturally, dining practices, acknowledging position and status in social context. They also suggest that what determine a firm's success internationally are the firm's level of competence and competitiveness both domestically and internationally, and also how effectively they cannot establish communication with their stakeholders. The authors also underline that the innate ability to learn other cultures and proper training to aid a person with adjusting in another culture will help establishing global business relationships. Furthermore, Chaney and Martin (2007) expound that it is essential to be aware of their customs to be sure of an intended meaning is not conveyed in order to prevent unintentionally offending them when interacting with colleagues or counterparts of other cultures in a business (or marketing) setting.
Other scholars like O'Roourke (2010); Cardon and Scott (2003); Brett (2001) view global business etiquette as a natural outgrowth of business globalisation. They propose that the globally working employees are required to be trained in technical knowledge, like import and export laws of other countries, management styles, business protocol, etiquette, and ethics.

Surveying the recent literature, it can be observed that the modern business context is globally interconnected. It also exhibits that contemporary leaders should be aware of cross-cultural business etiquette, so that they can establish strong interpersonal relationship abroad. Moreover, getting trained in cross-cultural etiquette will aid managers with foreign assignments cope with cultural variations.
Chhokar, Brodbeck, and House (2007) underline the significance of global awareness and cultural assessment across both developed and developing areas of the globe in order to prevent failures of global managers in their assessments. Thus, it is vitally significant to appreciate such things when establishing lasting impressions, being conscious about the way to introduce oneself and others during business meetings and at other business-related situations, and comprehending basic and suitable communication etiquette.
Harris and Moran (2000) state that embodying cultures of global business affect the way managers deal with the competitive surrounding, particularly with simple communication etiquette. They further argue that managers should be trained towards cultural sensivity, impression management, and comprehending the significance of keeping business relationships. Also, they should be informed about the complexities in international culture.

According to Connerley and Paul (2005), to have an effective management of multinational responsibilities, cross-cultural communication skills and interpersonal negotiation competence are very essential. Thus, they argue, global managers need to be sufficiently equipped not only with interpersonal but also with nonverbal communication competence for multinational responsibilities.
Today's global developments and trends point out the requirement to highlight business etiquette and cross-cultural skills as vital management obligatory since a growing number of organisations are setting up global strategic alliances. Moreover, since the global settings of business management and marketing include efficient and effective communication among various stakeholders, cross-cultural etiquette and ethics become vital skills.

Cook and Cook (2004) argue that business etiquette today plays an essential role in the success or failure of business challenging for global market share.

According to Ephraim Okoro (2012), appropriate and respectful behaviour would involve sensivity to cultural differences whilst making introductions, exchanging business cards, acknowledging status and position, dining practices and habits, giving presents, communicating with the proper tone across cultures, tipping etiquette, and employing clear nonverbal communications in social environment and global business.

Carte and Fox (2008) claim that the struggling part in international business is to understand and to anticipate cultural divergents in international business etiquette and also being able to adjust this accordingly for any successful international business. Despite the fact that a successful international business mostly relays on how well business firms behave in a foreign culture, not a lot effort has been employed to realising global business etiquette and its place in international business relationships. The authors claim that it is very important to different cultures and their behaviours around the globe, in order not to jeopardise success. They also point out that knowledge about the culture the ability and motivation to adapt to different behaviours call for adapting business etiquette to business persons from other countries in an effective way. As for an example, the giant retailer Mal-Mart learnt this lesson the hard way when they attempted to penetrate into German. Since some customers sometimes misinterpreted smiling as flirting, store clerks opposed Mal-Mart's policy of constantly smiling.

In the end, due to some cultural false steps, Wal-Mart had to leave the German Market (Bovee and Thill, 2010). The key to establishing good business relationships with individuals and business in other countries is to become aware of different countries to become aware of different countries' business etiquette.

O'Rourke (2010) states that the inability to adapt to foreign ways of thinking and acting unprofessionally are the most common factors of failure in international business contexts. Furthermore, they point out that one of the most significant elements for (business) success and development is acquiring the skills of proper etiquette at the international level.

David Ingram (2009) states his thoughts about the importance of business etiquette as follows,
Although certain ethical beliefs are nearly universal, much of the concept of ethics is subjective. Theft has been considered unethical in virtually every society since the dawn of civilization, for example, while certain forestry practices are perpetually debated. Although businesses operate within a wide range of regulations aimed at enforcing ethical standards, the subjective nature of ethics means that even perfectly legal business practices can come under scrutiny as unethical behavior. Businesses must take extra care to respect the ethical perspectives of all of their stakeholder groups.

He also states that in business etiquette, there are several factors, such as verbal and non-verbal communication which are the largest part of etiquette, taboo topics, communication styles, and preferred speaking distances that vary culture by culture. According to him, the other significant features of etiquette are appearance and dress, since business people are expected to look professional. He adds that the other element is time sensivity. It is obvious that some cultures put emphasis on punctuality, while others view it as eagerness or hastiness. Furthermore, he suggests that an understanding of business etiquette aids cross-cultural communication and trade; plus it improves productivity in the work place. Also, he states that united business from around the world can trigger industrial progress and innovation through sharing the ideas. He believes that individuals with various experiences and cultural backgrounds can bring the worlds brightest minds together and provide a commonly understood frame work for social and work place interaction. However, he also adds that there exist some challenges. He claims that small business owners and managers need to devote time examining the unique codes of business etiquette of each country or location in which they maintain business. Moreover, he says that since managers concentrate on staying within local business culture, their communication and negotiation styles may become neglected.

The following is a summary review of the recent studies conducted on the business etiquette/ behaviour in four countries (England, Germany, Japan and China).

1. English Business Etiquette
A strong sense of identity and nationalism are what form the business etiquette in England. According to Chaney and Martin (2007) the English business person cares to be deadline oriented in his business negotiations. They also tend to be reserved and they expect others to act accordingly. Customs (etiquette) and traditions are quite important to the English. Morrison (1994) states that in contrast to American business persons, in England, business friendships are not necessary. Harper (1997) says that one should be careful about asking too many personal questions too quickly when doing business in England, since this makes them nervous. Carte and Fox (2008) state that since they are individualists, like Americans, they concentrate on the tasks demonstrated in their job description, and they think it is normal to get reward from their boss for their individual efforts.
Martin and Chaney (2006) say that the English Notion of 'reserve' is well-known and they are strictly bound to protocol-similarly, Harper (1997) notes that it is the English business person's reserved character and strong sense of identity that control and determine the rules of business etiquette when performing business in England. In England, dress code and appearance in business setting is another very important consideration. For instance, Martin and Chaney (2006) say that it is significant to have conservative attire of excellent quality. They also add that, in England, like other European countries, it is essential to wear clothes made of quality fabrics since dress in an indication of social and business status. English businessmen consider sweat suits and tennis shoes inappropriate because they view them appropriate only for sports activities. Martin and Chaney (2006) also underline that they are very formal and polite and they pay attention to proper protocol and etiquette during the negotiation process. The authors add that the English can become ruthless negotiators; however, they can sometimes be seen eccentric, which can sometimes lead to other cultures under value their skills. Mole (1999) claims that when their basic assumptions about themselves are challenged, then the English business person can quickly lose his reserve.

2. German Business Etiquette
Carte and Fox (2008) say that, in Germany, authority and hierarchical differences are respected. A hierarchical organisational structure is preferred since it avoids uncertainty. Troyanovich (1972) informs that the form of business etiquette in Germany is provided by the formal culture of Germany that sets behavioural expectations in great detail, engaging its participants with the knowledge of what to do and when to do it. They prefer formal communication when doing business and they tend to be autocrats. Personal achievements, truth, and directness are some of the important aspects in their business life. In addition, Martin and Chaney (2006) underline that class status is significant in Germany, that is, despite the fact that all people own equal rights in law, inequalities exist in reality. The authors also point out that when addressing someone, you should always use a title until you are told that it is okay to use first names.
Axtell (1998) points out that the German business persons' rigorous obey to behavioural expectations can clearly be observed in their standards of business etiquette. The author also points out that punctuality is very important. It can be insulting to German managers to be even only a few minutes for a meeting. An explanation is expected when/if you are delayed. Similarly, Tinsley and Woloshin (1974) claim that one of the German culture is the sense of punctuality in all situations.

3. Japanese Business Etiquette
Bovee and Thill (2010) point out that Japanese business etiquette is controlled and determined by their cultural context, that is environmental stimuli, the pattern of physical cues, and implicit understanding that transmits meaning between two members of the same culture. For example, Brett (2001) states that businesspersons from other countries should ask some questions to be sure of they understand the intent of what is being negotiated as the Japanese do not say the word "no". Similarly, Martin and Chaney (2007) propose that the use of high-context communication is a part of Japanese culture, which can be quite confusing for the nonsensitive intercultural businessperson, because the Japanese may say 'yes' is 'no', but one should get whether 'yes' is yes or really no by the context. Bovee and Thill (2010) underline that Japanese culture reflects 'high-context' communication, in which, people rely less on verbal communication, but on the context of nonverbal actions and environmental context that form the intended meaning. It is suggested that instead of working out contractual agreements negotiators should work on or spend more time building relationships in Japan.

Carte and Fox (2008) point out that developing a personal trust is initial in business meetings. Martin and Chaney (2006) argue a similar argument to Carte and Fox, which they emphasise that it is an essential prerequisite to conducting business in Japan. They add that signing a contract in Japan does not necessary mean a sale or negotiation. It rather indicates a continuation of relationship for the future.

4. Chinese Business Etiquette
Early (1997), Martin and Chaney (2006) evaluate business etiquette in the People's Republic of China and they argue that unlike in the United States, most people in China are reserved. In U.S, friendships are formed and dissolved quickly. Thus, business relationships are viewed as shallow and short-lived. On the other hand, business relationships in China are seen as life time commitments. It is also claimed that Chinese business etiquette is directly related to the Chinese sensivity to face. Face is referred as an evaluation of a person's credibility, integrity, and self image by the authors, Ting-Toomey and Kurogi (1998) and Earley (1997). Moreover, Cardon and Scott (2003) argue that many phrases in Chinese state that face showing sophistication of face and how it is connected to communication behaviours, such as global business etiquette. The authors also state that Chinese businessmen utilise a number of communication strategies to get face or give face to others, for instance, indirectness, praising, requests, intermediaries, and shaming. They often use indirectness by preventing public confrontations in order to maintain face. The authors also claim that in China, employing intermediaries prevents direct confrontation, specifically in conflict situations. A Chinese businessperson is noted to believe in a win-win negotiation strategy that lets both sides be winners in order for increasing the strength and scope of relationships.
Cardon and Scott (2003) highlight that Chinese businesspersons utilise praise to identify status and position. For example, Chinese people often employ direct requests for favours since this exhibit that the business relationship is firm. Yet, when individuals break the trust of a relationship, then it becomes normal for Chinese businesspersons to resort to shame.

According to Chaney and Martin (2011), in China, like in the USA, face giving and taking is what controls and determines the rules of business etiquette. They also note that a handshake is always combined with a bow to display proper respect. The authors further suggest that business card exchange at meetings or social gatherings is another specific display of how face impacts Chinese business etiquette. Because Chinese business cards represent the person you are being introduced, it is kind to examine the card carefully and respectfully prior to putting it into the pocket as a demonstration of respect. The authors also point out that it is a common practice for the Chinese to leave business cards on the conference table so that they properly refer to names, ranks, and titles. They position cards in a way that they can be easily seen or read.

Some Significant Examples
The following are the examples how cultural ignorance can lead to negative consequences. Therefore, the examples below demonstrate how vital awareness is, especially in international business world today.

Example 1:
A cologne for men displayed a pastoral scene with a man and his dog. It was a total failure in Islamic countries since in those countries dogs are considered unclean.

Example 2:
American motors attempted to launch its new car named 'the Matador' in Puerto Rico. However, the name means 'killer' there and the car was not popular on the dangerous roads in the country.

Example 3:
Managers of an American company were discomposed when they found out that the brand name of the cooking oil they were selling to a Latin American country translated into Spanish as 'Jackass' !

Example 4:
An American businessman refuses an offer of a cup of coffee from a Saudi businessman. Such a rejection is very rude, so the business comes to a stop.

Example 5:
A company printed 'Ok' finger gesture on each page of the catalogue. However, in Latin America, that is considered as a rude gesture. Consequently, six months of work were lost as they had to reprint all the catalogues.

Example 6:
A Golf ball producing factory packed golf balls in packs of four for convenient purchase in Japan. Unluckily, pronunciation of the word 'four' in Japanese sounds like the word 'death'; thus, items packaged in fours are unpopular in Japan.

Example 7:
Mountain Bell company attempted to promote its telephone and services in Saudi Arabia. Yet, they failed when its ad pictured an executive talking on the phone with his feet propped up on the desk, exhibiting the soles of his shoes-something an Arab would never do!

Example 8:
Proctor & Gamble uses a TV commercial in Japan which was popular in Europe. The ad exhibits a woman having a bath, and her husband goes into the bathroom and touches her. The Japanese considered this ad as an invasion of privacy, inappropriate behaviour, and very poor taste.

(Examples taken from http//

The recent advances in technology and the notion of globalisation have been greatly contributing the growth of international trade today. However, it is clear that the success in global business affairs is determined by the ability of countries towards understanding and/or knowing the suitable customs, values and appropriate business etiquette of the target country. Since communication is culture specific and culture-bound, it becomes essential that countries which take part in international business must dedicate a considerable amount of time to make out, learn, and value each other's ethical habits and culture. In this way, they can conduct long, strategic alliances. As it is seen in this paper, there are many authors who have argued that intercultural communication competence and an appreciation towards cultural diversity will not only help business to build a bridge between countries which are participating in international negotiations, but also will aid the multicultural managers in carrying off their inter or multi-international business.
Putting into a nutshell, a global mindset; building up multicultural sensivity, the advantages of globalisation in today's business affairs are tools to utilise for a proper achievement in international business operations and negotiations among the involving countries.

Axtell (1998). The best selling guide to international behaviour, 3rd edition. The Parker Pen Company.
Bovee and Thill (2010). Business in action. Prentice Hall PTR.
Brett, J.E. (2001). Negotiating Globally. How to negotiate deals, resolve disputes, and make decisions across cultural boundries. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Cardon, P.W & Scott, J.C (2003). Chinese business face: Communication behaviours and teaching approaches. Business communication quarterly, (66) 4, 9-22. Retrieved on on April,1 2013
Carte, P., & Fox, C. (2008). Bridging the culture gap: A practical guide to international business Communication (2nd ed.). Philadelphia: Kogan Page.

Chaney, L., & Martin, J. (2006). Global business etiquette: A guide to international communication and customs. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing.

Chhokar, Brodbeck, and House (2007). Culture and Leadership Across the World: The GLOBE Book of In-Depth Studies of 25 Societies (Series in Organization and Management). Retrieved on
on 2, March 2013
Connerley, M., & Pedersen, P. (2005). Leadership in a diverse and multicultural environment: Developing awareness, knowledge, and skills. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Cook, R. A., & Cook, G. O. (2004). Guide to business etiquette (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall Publishing.

David Ingram (2009). Business etiquette. Retrieved from
on March 8, 2013

Early, P. C. (1997). Face, harmony, and social structure: An analysis of organizational Behavior across cultures. New York: Oxford University Press.
Ephraim Okoro (2012). International Organizations and Operations: An Analysis of Cross-Cultural Communication Effectiveness and Management Orientation. Retrieved from
on 3 March, 2013.

Global Business Etiquette and Intercultural Communication. Retrieved from
on 3 March, 2013.
Harper, T. (1997). Passport United Kingdom: Your pocket guide to British business, customs, and etiquette. Dan Rafael, California: World Trade Press.
Harris, P. R., & Moran R. T. (2000). Managing cultural differences. Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing Company.

Martin, J. S and Chaney, L.H.. (2007). Intercultural business communication (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Martin and Chaney (2006). Global business etiquette: A guide to international communication and customs. Westport, Conn: Praeger Publishers.

Mole, J. (1999). Mind your manners: Managing business cultures in Europe. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

Morrison. T (1994). Kiss, bow, or shake hands. Holbrook, MA.: AdamsMedia Cooperation
O'Rooke,J.S (2010). ManagementCommunication (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River., NJ:Pearson Prentice Hall.
Ting-Toomey, S and Kurogi, A. (1998). Facework competence in intercultural conflict: An updated face negotiation theory. International Journal of Intercultural Relations; 22(2), 187-225.
Tisley, R.L and Woloshin, D.L (1974). Approaching German culture: A tentative analysis. Teaching German, 7 (1), 125-136
Trayanovich, J (1972). American meets Geramn-cultural shock in the classroom. Teaching German, 5 (2), 67-79
What is business ettiquette? Retrieved from on 1 March, 2013
What is etiquette? Retrieved from on 1 March,2013


Hasan Bilokcuoglu, B.A. the European University of Lefke & M.A the European University of Lefke, and PhD in ELT in progress, is currently working at the European University of Lefke, Cyprus. He is deeply interested in the applications of the schemata theory on reading comprehension. Additionally, he is interested in the effects of cultural schemata and reading comprehension, and English for Specific Purposes. He can be contacted at:

To the original article

To the articles index

Tips & Newsletter Sign up —  Current Tip —  Past Tips 
Train with us — Online Development Courses — Lesson Plan Index 
Phonology —  English-To-Go Lesson  Articles Books
 Links —  Contact — Advertising — Web Hosting — Front page

Copyright 2000-2014© Developing