Cultural faux pas in business

Cultural faux pas in business

05/04/2016 Off By Gayle Dickson

In today’s global economy you only get one chance to make that crucial, first impression in business.  Research released from, reveals that a lack of understanding when it comes to business etiquette is impacting companies’ reputations worldwide, with 62% of business travellers confirming etiquette errors affect companies’ bottom lines.

The research surveyed over 4,500 business travellers across eight countries about their attitude towards business etiquette.  The research found that one-third (32%) of global business travellers admit to having committed a cultural faux pas when travelling internationally on business and half (49%) are worried they will unknowingly offend a client or business associate.  Almost half (45%) of business travellers have witnessed a colleague or business associates from other countries make a cultural slip-up.

Cultural faux pas in businessETIQUETTE IS SERIOUS BUSINESS

Business travellers are aware of the importance of correct etiquette, with 83% saying it’s important to be aware of cultural norms when travelling to a different country on business.  Three out of four business travellers (73%) claim to research where they are going to better understand a country’s business etiquette, but that doesn’t always stop them from making a faux pas.

While half of global business travellers worry about unknowingly offending the client or business associate, Spanish business travellers are most concerned about doing this (62%), while Japanese business travellers are least concerned (30%).


Although food may be one of the great pleasures in life, the thought of breaking bread with colleagues or business associates can be a worry for many business travellers.  When it comes to eating habits, there are many ways to offend other cultures. One in four of those surveyed are concerned about eating with people they don’t know very well, or going to restaurants that may not be able to adjust to their dietary requirements. One in three worry about being served too much alcohol (30%), and a similar proportion (32%) are concerned about making small talk with associates they don’t know very well.

Cultural faux pas in businessPLEASE TURN OFF YOUR MOBILE DEVICE

Globally, when it came to what people think are the biggest business etiquette faux pas, almost half (46%) of respondents feel that being on your mobile device during a meeting is the most offensive.  Over half of British (57%) and American  (55%) business travellers are most likely to say that being on a mobile phone is  a complete no-no, while Japanese business travellers are less bothered by this error (30%).

A side effect of an increasingly digital and mobile world means that people no longer know how to greet each other properly.  Two fifths (43%) of global business travellers feel that not greeting a business associate properly was one of the biggest cultural faux pas. Compared to those from other countries, Japanese business travellers feel the strongest about improper greetings, with three out of five (61%) seeing this as the highest form of rudeness.  Half (50%) of Chinese respondents thought that speaking loudly was the biggest cultural slip-up in their country.


So, what do you do if you have unknowingly (or knowingly) offended a foreign business associate? Seven out of ten Japanese business travellers (69%) suggest dealing with the issue straight away by apologising in the moment, versus only 37% of Italian business travellers.   A quarter of Italian business travellers – 26% – say they would try and make a joke of it to diffuse the situation, the highest of all countries surveyed.

Ripsy Bandourian, Director of Product Development, for Business comments:

“Experiencing new cultures is one of the things business travellers enjoy most.  However, doing good business in today’s global economy means that executives need to become a cultural chameleon. The  simplest of gestures and behaviours that are perfectly acceptable in one country or city can cause offence in another, which ultimately can make or break a deal ”


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