The Most Common Business Blunders in Russia (And How to Avoid Them)

While doing business in Russia may not be an obvious move for those of you attempting to expand your companies, conjuring images of intimidating businessmen and miles of red tape, Russia can be an interesting and challenging place to take advantage of a market—they have a 13% tax rate, and GDP growth has steeply inclined in recent decades—which few in the West see as a viable option.

In a country still trying to accustom itself to free-market capitalism, you may find the rules difficult to figure out at first. In some sectors, companies may be eager to solicit foreign investments, while in others it’s discouraged. Some more traditional-minded businesses may frown upon a partnership with Americans, while others may embrace it as the way of the future.

As long as you persevere and take care to avoid common pitfalls, such as the following, you are sure to find Russia’s prime real estate for doing business.

1. Be prepared for dramatics

Emotions often run high in the Russian business world, and it’s common during business negotiations for someone to throw a temper tantrum and storm out of the room, hoping their displeasure will make you give more concessions to get the deal underway.  Don’t be surprised if these fireworks occur, and don’t allow them to cloud your judgment.

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2. Be patient in building relationships

Russians can be skeptical in the face of new ideas and meeting new people, a trend that goes back to Soviet times.  Nevertheless, once you build a trusting relationship with your Russian colleagues, they will be loyal and devoted business partners, enthusiastic in moving forward with you.

3. Don’t waste time with small-talk

Once you have developed a bond of trust with your Russian colleague, he and she will often dispense with initial pleasantries and jump straight into business talk.  Don’t be offended by this—they are simply expressing their respect for your time by getting down to the important talk first.  There will be time for polite chatter after.

4. Don’t be offended if your partners are late for meetings

Even up to two hours—this may be a test of your patience, which is considered a virtue in Russia.  Vladimir Putin is famous for doing this to visiting diplomats.

5. Be prepared to deal with the Russian bureaucracy

Unfortunately, this is a reality in Russian life. While much of Russian business deals with evading the authorities, which are traditionally viewed as oppressive by their culture, and not paying taxes, you will certainly have to go through your share of paper-pushing and wrangling for visas. Keep in mind that Russian ministers and rule-makers have a very high turnover rate, so a visa you were promised at one point may no longer be acquirable at another.  Such chaos can be stressful, but you’ll get used to it.

6. Have an understanding of the Russian language

While most businessmen and women will speak some English for your negotiations, it shows good form if you arrive knowing a basic amount of Russian.  (Even knowing how to read the alphabet will help immensely.)  And, of course, offer colleagues bilingual business cards—they will be most appreciative.  If you’re ready to get started learning Russian, send us an inquiry or look into our Russian courses at a level appropriate for you.