There are manners and there is the Business Etiquette concept. You might think they are the same and what our parents taught us should serve us well in any situation. The general misconception is that knowing what fork to use and how to keep our elbows at the dinner table should be enough to prevent anybody from being embarrassed or from making a fool of themselves during a business dinner. The truth is that there is more to it than simply knowing how to use the cutlery.
Let’s think for a moment: one of the most important notions to master is networking. It is never too early to start networking; in fact, the earlier you start, the better for you. Knowing the right person weighs more than the best written and presented resume or a lifetime of achievements. Networking is basically making and keeping alliances. And being friendly, courteous, respectful, diplomatic and knowing how to manage conflict in a positive way is only the beginning of how to build them. But there is a lot to learn and every time we meet another human being, there is a 50/50 chance to make a gaffe, to step on a toe or simply to blow it. The tragedy is that real life does not provide us with too many second chances to reset and start all over again. Therefore, the more you know and practice etiquette, the better equipped you are to manage that situation in your advantage.
Cultural differences are usually at the base of most misunderstandings or miscommunications. I am under a lot of stress every time I need to host or participate to any social gathering (other than with my close friends). I come from a culture that takes its time to build relationships, and until that time when we feel comfortable enough around another person, we are very formal. We take as much time as we need to know the other person and we can not be rushed into liking somebody or pretending to. Moving to Canada, I think I have missed a million of opportunities to network by not knowing how to come out of my shell and being too stuck on titles and formality. I am still a work in progress, as knowing what to do does not necessarily translates into practising in real time.
And this is only one small example where one’s culture will definitely act against that person in a Canadian business environment. My advice for everybody: if you want to advance, on top of your competent self, master business etiquette and the language. Having an accent will always bring an exotic charm to your persona, but there are no excuses for not speaking a grammatically correct English. As Sir Francis Bacon once said: “knowledge is power”. Before anything, take some time to study the customs, culture, and language of the place where you intend to do business, regardless if you are a fluent English speaker or economically independent.