Culture Shock?

Do The Right Thing

According to Hilka Klinkenberg, founder of Etiquette International in New York City, less than 25 percent of U.S. business ventures abroad are successful. "A lot of that is because Americans don't do their homework or because they think the rest of the world should do business the way they do business," she says.

To avoid making costly mistakes in overseas meetings, Klinkenberg offers the following tips:

  • Build a relationship before you get down to business. "That entails making small talk and getting to know one another without [immediately] getting into business discussions," she says.
  • Don't impose time limits. Says Klinkenberg, "Keep [the meeting] as open as possible, because it adds strength to your negotiating position."
  • Do your research. Learn at least a few pointers and facts about the country; it shows you respect your potential partners' cultural heritage. Also, get comfortable with the basic words in their language.
  • Bring your own interpreter. If they provide the interpreter, warns Klinkenberg, "the interpreter is going to have the other person's intentions at heart, not yours."
  • Understand body language. "People think silent language is universal--it's not," she says.
  • Dress with respect and authority.

Contact Sources

21st Century Laboratories Inc.,

Etiquette International, (212) 628-7209,

Sloan International, (212) 362-9455,

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This article was originally published in the May 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Culture Shock?.

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