Doing Business in Russian: Everything You Need to Know About Russian Business Culture
If you’ve ever been to Russia, you may have been intimidated by the fact that smiles are much rarer in Moscow than in New York. In fact, if you smile too much at strangers in the street or even shop assistants in Russia, it’s very likely that they will look at you as if you were crazy. This doesn’t mean, of course, that Russian people are unwelcoming or unfriendly! It only means that, in their culture, smiles are reserved for truly special occasions.
If you’ve been invited to do business in Russian or you simply want to pursue work opportunities in this country, you will need to learn about Russian business culture and Russian business etiquette so that these differences won’t put you off once they start to happen.
Below, we will tell you everything you need to know about Russian business practices, how these are different from American etiquette, and why you need to start learning Russian right now!
American vs. Russian Work Culture
The first big difference between American and Russian business cultures is how they perceive personal space. While Americans get easily intimidated by “close talkers” and like to keep a healthy 3-4 feet between themselves and their interlocutors, for Russians there is no such thing as personal space. Your space is their space! They like to talk right on top of each other even if they have just met, something that might make Americans start to slowly back away. However, you should know that this closeness is not a sign of aggression or dominance. On the contrary, if a colleague gets very close to you while doing business in Russian territory, it means they’re interested and engaged in the conversation.
The second thing you should know about Russian business culture is that it retains many of the dynamics instilled during the Soviet era. In terms of management style, this translates to a form of leadership in which managers make decisions unilaterally without expecting consent from employees. In America, however, while employees are expected to follow their managers’ directions, they are often welcome to ask questions about their responsibilities, and they might even be asked to collaborate with supervisors.
The next big difference between American and Russian business practices has to do with how they solve problems and conduct business meetings. While in America it is perfectly normal and even preferable to conduct work meetings over the phone, Russians prefer to hear from people face-to-face and discuss important matters in person.
Do’s and Don’ts in Russia
Remembering all Russian business practices can be a bit difficult for people who’ve never experienced Russian culture in person. In this section, you will find a concise guide on what to do and, more importantly, what to avoid doing once you arrive in Russia.
- Bring a small gift symbolizing the history of your company and the importance of the deal you’re about to make.
- Shake hands firmly and keep direct eye contact. Make sure you do this once you’ve crossed the threshold completely, whether you’re arriving or leaving, as shaking hands over the threshold is considered unlucky.
- Be patient. Patience is paramount in Russian business culture, as negotiations can often be slow. As the Russian saying states, don’t “hurry to reply, hurry to listen”.
- Don’t use hard-selling techniques and avoid confrontation. Russian business etiquette is based on mutual trust and respect for each other’s right to choose freely and without pressure.
- Never mention any of the following topics: the Holocaust; Czarism and the monarchy; conflicts with ethnic minorities; things you don’t like about Russia
- Avoid using people’s first names unless you’re directly invited to do so. Authority and formality are crucial in Russian business culture.
How Should I Dress for a Business Meeting in Russia?
The Russian business attire is formal and conservative both for men and women. Russians value elegance but they believe that modesty should come before style. Women are expected to wear business suits or long dresses. Men, on the other hand, should wear dark-colored suits with a white shirt and a discreet tie.
What Type of Gifts Are Given in Russia?
In Russian business culture, presents symbolize the importance of the relationship between two parties. Traditionally, foreigners are expected to present their hosts with an item characteristic of their local area or one that displays their company logo or represents their company in some other way.
Should I Know Russian to Do Business in Russian?
English is the main foreign language at Russian schools and is deemed within Russian business culture as a highly useful language for intercultural meetings. However, if you want to make a good impression on your hosts, you shouldn’t expect them to do all the work. By learning a few greetings, business idioms, and basic phrases for socializing, you will show them that you respect their culture and that you are willing to make an effort to create a good rapport with your foreign colleagues.
If you want to do business in Russian territory, then, the best thing you can do to make sure everything goes smoothly is take a few lessons with a native teacher. By learning with a Russian tutor, you will get to learn the language from a cultural perspective, and you will be much more prepared to face differences between American and Russian business etiquette. Contact us now and we’ll match you with a native Russian teacher so you can start working on your fluency right now. By the way, the first class is on us. Yes, you read that correctly. We are offering you a trial lesson with a native tutor at no cost! Reach to us now and get started!