Top tips for business travel in Russia

April 11, 2014 |

Before you embark on business travel to Moscow or other cities in the vast Russian Federation, you should learn about Russian business culture so you can have a successful trip. Here are the top tips:

Greetings

Upon initial greetings, a very firm handshake is always appropriate. Usually, people wait for the person with higher status to initiate the handshake. Also, titles are very important in Russian culture. However, if you are invited to use a contact’s given name, it’s important to use his or her first name followed by patronymic, which will require you to do a bit of research on your contacts before meeting them. The patronymic is technically a person’s middle name, and it is formed by using the father’s first name followed by one of six suffixes, depending on gender and the sound the name ends in.

For example, if a man’s father was named Oleg, his patronymic would be “Olegovich.” If a woman’s father was named Nikita, her patronymic will be “Nikitichna.” If you learn your contacts’ patronymics – such as Dmitriy Olegovich or Anastasia Nikitichna – they will be highly impressed. It’s an important way to show respect.

Gifts

Gift giving is important in Russian culture and should be done upon first meeting. Russians spend a lot of money on gifts, so make sure to choose something meaningful and expensive. It’s a good idea to bring something purchased in the U.S., specifically in your home location, if possible.

If you’re invited to dine at a family home, this is a big deal and you should expect to stay late into the night. Make sure to bring a box of chocolates, a bottle of wine or a bouquet of flowers – as long as they aren’t red, white or yellow and are in odd numbers. Also, while in a home, it’s a good idea to accept most offers of food and alcohol – if you must decline,do it in a very tactful way or risk being scene as rude.

Business cards

Make sure to bring plenty of cards while on business travel in Russia – just have them printed in English on one side and Russian on the other. Though most business people in Russia speak English, this is a sign of respect.

Meetings

Initial meetings are often very formal and it’s vital to arrive on time. However, your Russian counterparts might be even an hour or two late. It’s important to dress formally and be firm and professional but also warm. Meetings will likely run slowly, so patience and avoiding high-pressure talk are essential. It’s also important to understand hierarchy in business culture – often, people lower on the totem pole will say “yes” and make promises to things they aren’t authorized to confirm. Also, don’t be surprised if later meetings get heated and business people threaten to end relationships or walk out of the room for a time – it’s often a tactic to gain leverage.

Other tips

Here are some other vital cultural norms and business etiquette to follow for successful business relations in Russia:

  • Avoid showing the soles of your shoes to anyone or putting your feet up – this is highly disrespectful.
  • Be prepared for near constant smoking, even during a meal, as it’s still allowed in most public buildings throughout the country.
  • Wear dark suits, make sure your shoes are highly polished and don’t be afraid to wear a few flashy accessories – Russians respect this and expect people to show their importance and wealth.
  • Avoid getting too personal during meetings and don’t complain about Russia or compare it to developing countries.
  • If you are a parent, showing photos of your children can be a great icebreaker at dinner.