Business communication

Ireland flagThe following section focuses on the communication aspects of business practice and outlines practical points to bear in mind when making contact with an Irish counterpart.

The normative practices mentioned in this section will apply to the majority of everyday situations, however, you should bear in mind that the recommendations here are  meant only as general indicator of best practice and do not take into account distinctive local customs and habits. Thus it is advisable to adjust your approach according to your business associate and follow his/her lead if possible.

Communication habits differ across cultures. Gestures that are appropriate in your home country may be unacceptable in the host country. However, not only does the non-verbal part of communication differ, the contents of the conversation often also vary. Thus you may find that some topics seem to be discussed more frequently within a given culture whereas the same conversation may be considered taboo somewhere else. Such errors in communication may have a serious impact on the success of the negotiation process. On the other hand, as the Irish are a significantly culturally aware nation, in many cases they may help you to overcome any initial discomfort.

If you want to build a positive image, you need to start at the very beginning of the communication process. The following section will provide you with information on both verbal- and non-verbal communication issues with a particular focus on the initial stage of contact. Special attention is devoted to the use of titles in Irish business.

Face-to-face communication

The Irish people’s reputation as good conversationalists is well-deserved. They enjoy conversations on topical and everyday issues. Furthermore, the Irish do not just say what needs to be said. They enjoy telling witty or philosophical stories and value people who have the flair for amusing conversations.

The Irish are generally very polite and warm. They love their country and enjoy life as it comes. They see the family as a central part of their lives and adjust their working life to  family needs. As a very sociable nation, the Irish enjoy having fun with the language by making jokes. Everyday conversation is usually permeated with numerous jokes, direct or indirect, that are, however, usually met with bewilderment by foreigners. If the jokes are made at your expense, it is expected that you will be  a good sport and put up with it, joining in the fun and making a joke as well.

When you enter the office in Ireland, you should say “good morning” to each person you know. However, you do not need to shake hands. “How are you?” is popular as a casual greeting after which just saying “hello” is expected.

When business cards are handed out, you should present your card first to the secretary and then after the meeting, to the individuals you were meeting.

The Irish are notorious for their passion to converse and debate. There are a number of “safe” topics, such as the weather, sport, hobbies and transport. It is also possible to debate about religion and politics, however, in these cases you should wait until your Irish counterpart brings these two subjects up. When the debate about these sensitive topics starts, you should be prepared to hear opinions that are very strong and often confrontational. It is not necessary to stay overly shy about joining in the discussion, since the Irish are entertained by arguments and opinionated conversation. Thus you should not hesitate to express your views as long as you are sincere and informed. Generally, the Irish are particularly proud of their history and expect visitors to understand and appreciate their complex past.

At all times, it is advisable to remain honest and avoid arrogance. The Irish will constantly examine your actions to make a judgement on your competence and abilities. The best possible approach is to remain open, modest, relaxed and humble. Furthermore, try to keep in check any behaviour like nervousness, officiousness, or self-importance.

Language matters

Although Irish Gaelic is the first official language of  Ireland, it is only spoken by around a third of the population. English, the second official language, is the language most commonly used and business meetings in Ireland are usually conducted in English. However, if you engage yourself in  conversation with the locals, you will find that Irish people have their own distinctive way of speaking English. This is partly because they speak English as if they were speaking Irish. Nowadays, the Irish language is spoken in only a few parts of the country known as the Gaeltacht. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that Irish is still the official language of the Republic of Ireland and  it still exerts a significant influence over the way Irish people speak. In every region there are various accents and although business partners usually pay attention to the clarity of their speech, the language is rarely completely free of local dialects. If your English is not at an appropriate level for a business negotiation, it is advisable to ensure that interpreting facilities are available.

However, apart from speaking the traditional Irish language, the knowledge of  other languages is not widespread in Ireland. Of course, it is possible to find exceptions to  this rule, but , in general, it is recommended not to expect your Irish counterparts to speak any foreign languages.

Business relationship

Business relationships in Ireland are similar to those of other Western European countries, normally formalised in writing, and depending on what has been agreed,  signed by both parties as confirmation of the agreement.

Many organisations will agree the details of their discussions verbally between themselves, but this is normally followed up in writing to officially confirm the details.

More informal matters can be agreed verbally, and do not need to be confirmed in writing. It is better to clarify with the other party what will happen following a discussion or meeting, this way there will be no misunderstandings between the parties.

Making contact

The Irish are not very physically and emotionally demonstrative. Public displays of affection are uncommon, particularly in the business environment. Loud, aggressive, and arrogant behaviour is seen in a negative light by the Irish. Patting, hugging or touching other men in public is considered socially unacceptable, the only exception being  a ‘well done’ slap on the back”. The Irish use gestures very sparingly and foreigners need to be aware of cultural differences in this area. For instance, it must be remembered that a “reverse V for victory” gesture is thought of as extremely obscene in Ireland. Touch one’s nose means, “keep this a secret” or “it is just between us.”

Generally, the Irish are very friendly people with a great sense of humour and their behaviour is less formal than is the custom in Western Europe. Their considerable  cultural awareness helps them to be more tolerant towards members of other nations.

When making  contact, an arm’s length distance should be kept at all times since in Ireland  it is important to maintain personal space. The Irish avoid any kind of physical contact apart from the  warm handshake that is the accepted custom at  first meetings. In particular, men should try not to be too physically demonstrative with women. Irish people normally prefer direct eye contact and perceive  people who avoid it to be untrustworthy. Therefore, when talking to an Irish person you should not break eye contact.

If you want to develop a network of Irish associates quickly, the best way to do so is to be introduced by people from within the network as it is said that introductions are the currency that makes Irish business go around.

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Personal titles

In business environments first names are commonly used. However, as a golden rule, it is advisable to follow the example set by your Irish associates. If an Irish counterpart addresses you by your title and last name, you should do the same. Later on, when your relationship has developed, it is reasonable to assume that first names will be used. In Ireland terms like “sir” and “madam” are very seldom used.

The Irish do not draw overt attention to academic qualifications or personal achievements, unlike the nationals of many other European countries. Only if an Irish counterpart has been to  a renowned academic institution, can it be expected that this will be mentioned at some point during the conversation. Generally, it is seen as arrogant to discuss one’s own academic or professional accomplishments. Such behaviour usually results in the speaker being laughed at. Simply put, in Ireland, titles, whether professional or academic, don’t necessarily command respect and their use is  perceived as a form of boasting. Irish people believe that respect and the esteem of others  must be earned.

In business correspondence, particularly during the initial stage, last names preceded by “Mr.”, “Mrs.”, or “Ms.” should be used. However, similarly to the practice when speaking, the Irish tend to move quickly on to first names.

When in Ireland you may come across many slang words that are typical of the local culture. Most probably, you will hear the Irish addressing themselves “yer wan” referring to anyone of the female sex or “yer man” which is the male equivalent.

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