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Form and substance in business meetings

It’s called “business etiquette”, and it is a specific way of looking at business and, above all, an approach to conducting business meetings, negotiations, and preliminary activities. Etiquette is both form and substance, a method in production and a strategy of negotiation. Outside certain sensationalist literature, today business etiquette is still relevant and can help us to understand the culture of enterprise in its country of origin.

Joanna Zator-Peljan, at the Poznan University College of Business, has sought to shed light on certain manifestations of business etiquette in order to understand their nature and differences and to provide practical advice backed by a base of theory. The study, published in the Global Management Journal, analyses and compares the approaches to business and business meetings in Poland, Germany, France and China and comes up with a picture of their respective cultures of enterprise and a valid guidebook to help approach the markets in these four countries. Containing a series of practical examples, this work is more than just a handbook on behaviour in that it points to a methodology, i.e. the main characteristics and pillars on which to act in enterprise— outward signposts pointing to a number of characteristic traits of each culture of enterprise.

As Zator-Peljan explains, Poles, Germans and the Chinese see “conservative” dress as being crucial in business meetings, whereas in France high-quality clothing is what is expected. There are also rules on exchanging business cards. In Poland and Germany, there is a clear tendency to focus on a given topic and to come to the meeting prepared and attentive. In France, on the other hand, they tend also to hold meetings based on emotional factors and to conduct meetings that may be unorganised and at times even unending. The Chinese select a member of senior management as the spokesperson for a team, while the rest of the group remains silent. Another complex matter to keep in mind is the ritual of pre- and post-meeting chit-chat. Depending on the person you are speaking with, you may need to talk about family, politics, the government, or culture.

As Zator-Peljan concludes, “The globalized business world offers a variety of business cooperation possibilities. […] The decisive aspects of successful intercultural negotiations are not only certain contract conditions,” but also aspects related to directly to business etiquette, which thus becomes an important part of the culture of enterprise in play.

Business Etiquette in Poland, Germany, France and China: an Intercultural Approach

Joanna Zator-Peljan, Poznan University College of Business, Poland

Global Management Journal , Vol. 5, No. 1, 2/2013