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Business Etiquette – How to Make Great First Impressions when Doing Business in the West

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a saying we are all too familiar with as most parents probably raise their children with this concept. However, let us be honest, more than often we do judge a book by its cover and first impressions do count. Yes, what is on the “inside” may sometimes be more important, but naturally most people will look at the packaging before looking at its content. Why? Because people make up their mind about you in the first 5-7 seconds of meeting you!

It is about how you look, how you present yourself, how you walk, how you smile and whether you look confident. Or are you giving off a negative signal, do you look like you are insecure, do you look trustworthy? There is a lot to think about, a lot to consider, so how do you make a good first impression? What are some things we can brush up on? What should we look out for?

Check out these three pieces of advice and tips on how business etiquette can affect your business communications.

1. Smile!

This is a no-brainer – people are drawn towards people who smile, who seem like they are happy. So if you walk into a room or you approach people, smile! It does not just show that you are a positive and happy person but it will also display confidence. It will put you and the other person at ease: “Smile and the world smiles, too!” But do not overdo it, as that could cause you coming across as not being too serious either.

2. Success does not just depend on what you say, but how you say it

In business, the image you portray is the image people will remember. The correct way is to go up to the person, greet them and introduce yourself. But careful here! Even if you have confidence, make sure the first words you speak make sense. Do not go up to someone and say: “Nice to meet you.” That does not make sense as you have not yet really met the person. It is more appropriate to say “Hello, my name is ….”

If the other person does not voluntarily say their name, ask them. Then shake their hands and say: “Nice to meet you”. That displays a nice, competent and confident way of introducing yourself.

But remember to shake hands firmly. Do not offer a soft, soggy, weak handshake – that just puts people off. Give them something to shake! There are different ways to shake hands, but one of the best ways is a nice firm handshake, looking the person confidently in the eye. Making eye-contact shows that you are open and you are honest. This is the first impression most people are looking for.

When you are the one to initiate going up to the person, introducing yourself and doing the handshake, it does not just show confidence but also that you are somehow in control of the situation. Doing all of this with a big fat smile on your face might make people think “wow” – this person knows what they are doing – they are confident. So if they know what they are doing, I might as well do business with them!

3. You want to be taken seriously and at the same time look good?

Casual clothes are not always bad and if they are nice, they may display an open and casual attitude of the person wearing them. However, if you want to do business, it is better to have a more professional edge and the clothes you wear can make or break that impression. Especially for important days, when giving presentations or meeting important clients, try to dress on the more formal side.

Another big factor is your body language. Especially if doing business with Western people, be aware that they prefer a little more personal space. So standing too close may seem somewhat intimidating and suffocating for them.

Pay attention to your arms and where you put them. For example, do not cross your arms as it conveys the impression that you are not open, that you are reserved and it looks defensive.

Unlike in Asia and other countries around the world, business communications in most Western countries boil down to quickly building a rapport. When you can meet someone and effectively impress them within a few minutes or seconds even, then you have already begun a relationship with them. Often a little small talk will do the job to build a little faith and relationship with the person and then you can progress to business things. You never get a second chance to make a first impression!

Join me on this series of etiquette in culture and business and please share your experiences and add in the comment box below!

Need help to overcome these obstacles? You don’t know how to overcome differences? You need more information or training for your company or as an individual? Please check out my Cross-Cultural and Business English lessons including basic cultural etiquette!

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