Regardless of where or who you do business with, it usually takes less than a second for someone to form a first impression about you. But rest easy, you have a bit more time as this impression is then usually fully formed over the next 3-5 seconds. A major part of the first impression consists of how trustworthy and confident you seem. Upon meeting someone for the first time, many people will ask themselves a question similar to “how approachable is this person?” and/or “how competent are they?” This can be judged by one’s dress, appearance and body language.
In this blog, I’d like to look at some ways in which we can make a lasting good impression.
Dress, Appearance and Grooming
Not unlike in Japan men should aim to dress conservatively, dark blue or gray suits are the norm. Avoid flashy colors, especially your choice of tie. Women are also expected to dress conservatively but at the same time emphasize their femininity and sexiness in an appropriate way - this is especially so in some South American countries like Brazil. This is accomplished by avoiding ‘manly’ attire (pant suits), wearing a moderate amount of make up and a fashionable but not flashy piece of jewelry or an accessory of some kind. Men should aim for a clean shave and manicured facial hair but not to the extent that would cause unwanted attention. Women should not be afraid to wear a moderate amount of make-up while being careful to not overdo it.
Unlike Japan, bowing in western cultures is not common. Instead handshaking is very common and can sometimes last longer depending on the country or situation - don”t withdraw your hand quickly or rush it, a firm grip is also preferable in most countries. Shaking hands when both greeting and leaving someone is common and when in small groups it is important to shake hands with everyone present so as to not offend anyone. Shaking a women’s hand is not uncommon, but wait for her to initiate it. Maintaining eye contact throughout the process is important and shows strength of character. Don’t be surprised by men embracing and women kissing, particularly in some countries in Europe and South America. Even if present among this behavior you are not expected to behave in the same way upon first meeting someone.
The distance individuals stand from each other when meeting and talking with each other is generally much smaller than in Japan. Don’t be alarmed by the proximity and don’t back away. Likewise a pat on the shoulder, arm or back can be interpreted as a sign of friendship, particularly in a lot of South American countries.
Exchanging Business Cards
When presenting your business card make sure to use cards that include the local language and present this side up. Speaking a few words of the local language such as a greeting also goes a long way towards making a good impression and showing you both care about and respect the language and culture.
Some individuals, particularly from Latin America have two surnames: from their father and their mother’s side. Only the father’s surname, which is listed first, is used when addressing someone. Titles, like in Japan, are very important, so be sure to make note of this if mentioned or on the card.
One last piece of advice: don’t be afraid to relax, smile and loosen up a little, sometimes being to uptight and professional can put off the people you are meeting.
Try some of the above advice for yourself when you are on a business trip abroad next time.