To Shake Or Not To Shake – Business Etiquette in Russia

In our increasingly globalized world, it is important to try to understand the different cultural values of the countries you do business with. While it makes sense to try to learn a few basic phrases before traveling abroad, it also makes good business sense to make sure you abide by the rules of non-verbal communication and behavior. It’s worth putting in a bit of time and effort in order to build up some cultural awareness before visiting a new country, especially when a business negotiation could depend on it.

Here are a few things worth remembering when conducting business in Russia:

Watch what you wear

Russian businessmen tend to wear dark, formal suits and women are expected to wear skirts that cover their knees. During negotiations they never take their jackets off.

Pleased to meet you

Russians are much more formal than Americans so always introduce someone by their full name, using their first name, middle name and surname. Only use just the first name if you know the person really well. Shake hands with men but not women.  Never shake hands while wearing gloves.

Right on time

Foreigners are always expected to be on time for business meetings. Russians themselves, however, may be late. This could be a test of patience, considered a much more important virtue than punctuality. It would not be thought appropriate to complain about this.

It’s not what you know

In Russian business dealings a lot of emphasis is placed on ‘connections’ and ‘influences’. The word Russians use is ‘svyasi’. It’s often hard to do business without help from a local.

Take my card

Don’t assume people will speak/understand English. It is polite to have documents translated into Russian and when carrying business cards make sure that one side is in English and the other in Russian.

Your final offer

Russian business meetings are notoriously long and negotiations often carry on well after the ‘final offer’ stage. Nothing is final until the contract is signed but even then it can be modified. Russians like to take their time debating an issue and they will continue negotiating until you offer concessions. Compromise is usually considered a weakness.

And finally…

Down in one

If offered vodka in Russia, it is considered rude to refuse it. It should be drunk in one go, as taking small sips is also a faux pas.

Little details can make all the difference to a business meeting. Being aware of these small cultural differences can help improve business relationships and enhance your company’s reputation. Most things are harmless, but some could cause offense or create the wrong impression. If you want to build up a good working relationship, it’s worth showing that you have at least made an effort to be aware of your differences.