Executive Secretary asks an expert on the region to give his personal guide to doing business in Russia.
On the face of things Russia has changed. Political movement, government reforms, a stable economy, vast natural resources and a large population have all led to Russia becoming the R in BRIC (The big four: Brazil, Russia, India and China) . The future looks good. However, Churchill’s description of the country as a “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma” still very much holds true for ill-prepared foreigners. Gaining some basic insight into Russian mentality, culture and etiquette are key for anyone doing business there.
Meeting and Greeting
The typical greeting is often a (very) firm handshake with the appropriate greeting for the time of day – dobraye utra (good morning), dobryy den (good afternoon) or dobryy vecher (good evening).
Even though it may sound a bit stiff, it is commonplace to introduce yourself using only your surname. Before meeting your Russian counterpart ensure you find out if there are any titles they use as these are extremely important and should be used. It is appropriate to refer to your counterpart by either “gaspodin” (a courtesy title similar to “Mr.”) or “gaspazhah” (similar to “Mrs.” or “Miss”) plus his or her surname.
On the whole Russians have three names. The first name is the given name while the last name is the father’s family name. The middle name is a version of the father’s first name, known as a patronymic; for a man, it ends with the suffixes “vich” or “ovich” meaning ‘son of.’ For a woman, the patronymic is also the father’s first name but with suffixes “a” or “ova” added, which means ‘daughter of.’
If travelling to the country make sure you take business cards. It is always a good idea if you plan to maintain contacts in Russia, to have one side translated into Russian. If you do so, make sure you add your title and any degrees or qualifications.
Meetings and Negotiating
Always be punctual when attending meetings or appointments. However, do not take offence if your Russian counterpart is not. It is not uncommon for Russian business people to turn up hours late. In fact, a good indication of how seriously a meeting is taken is how punctual they are.
Initial meetings are usually approached as a formality. It is at this stage that your credibility will be assessed. The best strategy is to appear very firm and dignified, while maintaining an air of warmth and approachability.
Pitches or presentations should be simple and straightforward. Generally Russians are not impressed by foreigners doing business in Russia who use special visuals, flashy PowerPoint presentations and the like. These do not sway decisions. For the most critical element is demonstrating your knowledge, professionalism and expertise.
Many Russian business personnel speak good English so presenting in the language is not a problem. If it could be possible, then hire a Russian interpreter. It is, however, sometimes recommended that you make the effort to present something written in Russian.
Negotiations are an interesting affair. Russians are tough and like to indulge in a fair amount of theatre if necessary. Their main aim is to gain concessions so there will be a lengthy process of grinding you down. Caving in too early is a sign of weakness so stand your ground. If you do feel the need to concede, ask for the gesture to be reciprocated in some way. Generally speaking, Russians view compromise as a sign of weakness. Don’t be surprised by loss of tempers, walkouts, threats to end the deal and similar incidents. It’s all part of the theatre.
Doing business, conducting meetings, making decisions, negotiating and getting to know each other is increasingly being done at dinner. If your Russian counterpart decides to invite you out, do not refuse the request, as it would be rude.
At the table centre seats are used by the most senior attendees. As a guest you should be seated in the middle, opposite your immediate counterpart.
Remember Russians do like a drop or two of alcohol. Refusing to drink is unacceptable unless you give a plausible excuse, such as explaining that health or religious reasons prevent you from imbibing. Always bear in mind that you may be discussing work proposals, so possibly limit alcohol consumption.