Meeting etiquette

Ireland flagBusiness meetings in Ireland

Business meetings are a way of corporate life in Ireland. As you will be travelling from a foreign country, it is essential to ensure that the facilities that you require for your business meetings are available and ready to use. Thus, it is advisable to plan your meeting and circulate agendas in advance in order to ensure that everyone is prepared. Proper planning and preparation are the necessary prerequisites to the success of any business meeting in a foreign country.

When making a decision regarding the content of the meeting and considering the negotiation strategy, it is important to be prepared for cultural differences that may come up in meetings and adjust your  strategy accordingly . The following section deals with different stages of business meetings and highlights the most culturally sensitive issues in this area.

Importance of business meetings

With Irish counterparts, business meetings are usually easily arranged at practically all organisational levels. Many Irish executives are pleasant, approachable and willing to meet to discuss potential business. However, this does not mean that the deal is done. The Irish are generally somewhat reserved with  strangers and overseas businessmen must build up trust before the actual negotiation process can start. Thus, the importance of small talk at the beginning of the meeting cannot be overemphasised. Also, you should ensure that plenty of time is allowed for the negotiation process as it may take considerably longer to complete a deal than you might think.

Another obstacle you may face is numerous “gatekeepers” in the form of secretaries who  filter visitors (mostly based on unknown criteria) for some senior executives.. In these cases, a pleasant chat to the secretary and a small gift may work  miracles. In general, the best policy is to arrange an appointment at least two weeks in advance.  It is also good practice to call a day ahead of an arranged meeting to confirm your attendance.

Before you set up a meeting, you should spend some time  getting to know people in order to become part of their network. Very often an unprepared business meeting may prove to be useless as the necessary social network has not been developed. Thus, it is advisable to discover the relationships in the company first in order to find out who is the key decision maker. This will help to ensure that only competent people are involved in the meeting. An alternative way of developing business networks is to attend various trade events and to join professional associations, which serve as an ideal forum for making business contacts.

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Business meeting planning

When choosing a time to set up a meeting, the months of July and August should be avoided as this is the main vacation time in Ireland. Other periods when it is advisable to avoid setting up business meetings are the first week of May, Christmas, Easter or New Year since many executives will be on holiday during these times. Generally, the best time for business visits is from September to  May.

Meetings should not be arranged for the early morning as, due to traffic congestion, it may be quite difficult for the parties to attend on time. Lunch meetings are more appropriate. The golden rule is to make arrangements for appointments in advance and allow enough time to complete business matters bearing in mind thatin Ireland this may take  longer  than in your home country.

Business meetings over a cup of coffee in a good hotel have been growing in popularity in recent years. The foyers of most Dublin and city hotels are particularly suitable for such events allowing the counterparts to meet in an agreeable atmosphere. A major advantage of these meetings is the informality, where no pressure is put on either of the  parties and they can make a clear decision on whether they wish to engage themselves further in the business discussed. As a consequence, this kind of encounter is particularly useful at the initial stage of a business relationship. At  a later stage, a more formal meeting in a traditional conference room is more appropriate.

Another option is a meeting in a pub or bar as these places are extremely popular in Ireland. They are more appropriate for informal social events, rather than business meetings. However, as business and social bonds are equally important and often inseparable, it is more than probable, particularly at the later stages of a business relationship, that your Irish counterparts will propose this option. Alternatively, meetings can be arranged for a later hour and business can be discussed over  dinner. The golf course is also a suitable venue for conducting business in Ireland.

When deciding which managers from the home country to send as a negotiator, it seems, regrettably, more advisable to send a man. Although Irish society is changing, Irish women are still struggling for some of their rights at work and to be appointed to positions of authority. Consequently, in the workplace women are not always treated as equals, which is why it is advisable for foreign companies to send a male manager in the probability that he would be respected more.

Generally, business is best initiated through a well-connected third party. Connections and networking are vital for business success. If you can involve any of your Irish business acquaintances with a new partner, you should not hesitate to do so.

Negotiation process

During the negotiations, you should speak plainly and appreciate that what you say will be taken literally. Similarly, you should interpret what your Irish counterparts say in the same direct manner. In the early stages of a business relationship there is usually a lot of banter and any wild promises should not be expected to come to fruition.

Before the actual negotiation process can start, it is necessary to gain trust and credibility. The Irish buy mainly from the Irish or from people within their network of contacts and foreigners often find it difficult to penetrate these networks. It can be quite time consuming and requires a lot of persistence to gain trust and prove that you can offer something that your partner cannot get from an Irish supplier.

Cool-headedness is typically required for negotiations with the Irish and trying to do business in a hurry does not usually bring success. The Irish value directness, so  your presentation should be straightforward, and emphasise the positive as well as any  negative outcomes. Always be sincere and keep the presentation simple and to the point . The Irish dislike pretentious behaviour. In particular, they dislike being pressured. Aggressive sales techniques are generally unpopular. However, you should be prepared to bargain and negotiate over prices.

You should not be misled by the seemingly relaxed and amiable atmosphere that your  Irish counterparts will probably try to impose from the beginning of the meeting. In negotiations, the Irish are astute and tenacious and are masters of gaining information from other people whilst not disclosing their own position . In some cases, they might just want to “steal” your ideas. Thus it is advisable not to reveal all your information, but to wait until you are sure about your counterpart’s commitment.

When negotiating, you should avoid being ostentatious about wealth. Many Irish are quite ambivalent about this topic and excessive financial displays are usually frowned upon. Thus, it is essential to remain modest at all times as the Irish  do not typically trust authority and are cautious of people who might consider themselves to be somehow superior to others.

The Irish are notoriously famous for their short term, profit focused orientation. You should bear this in mind when negotiating and try to address their need for short-term gains in your offer. Another Irish characteristic is to want to do things their way so you should not insist on them doing it “your way”. Rather, you should try to think about the possibilities  to implement your idea in the Irish environment.

In Ireland, established laws and rules usually supersede one’s personal feelings. Company policies and regulation are followed at all times. The Irish place a high value on facts and empirical evidence. Feelings of any kind are usually dismissed with suspicion, particularly when making decisions. In particular, the Irish do not tend to trust people who give effusive praise as this behaviour is seen as suspicious and aimed to mislead them in some way. Keeping this in mind, you can  focus your presentation on facts and  not put unnecessary effort into the emotional part of the negotiation process.

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Meeting protocol

At the beginning of a business meeting you are expected to shake hands with everyone present. Usually, the same procedure is repeated at the end of an encounter. The handshake should be firm and accompanied by  eye contact.

Subsequently, business cards are usually exchanged and both parties indulge in an informal conversation before they proceed to the salient points of the meeting. The casual, even humorous conversation that often opens a business meeting is an important part of Irish business culture and serves as an ice-breaking device. In Irish business it is important to establish a rapport. A particularly suitable topic for the initial conversation is  the weather – however, keep in mind that Irish perceptions of the weather very often differ from the European concept – for example, both mist and soft rain are not viewed negatively. Topics that should be avoided include politics, specifically troubles with the UK as well as the issue of Protestants vs. Catholics. Discussions tend to be quite lengthy. Avoid short answers as they are seen as brusque. Silence during the initial period of a meeting will often be perceived as rudeness and you will appear  cold and unfriendly to your Irish counterparts.

However, the informal nature of the initial part of the meeting does not mean that you should resort to excessive familiarity. Reserved manners are still valued in  Irish society and, mainly at the initial stage, meetings should be low key.

How to run a business meeting

When running a formal meeting the most important thing to be aware of is the planning and preparation necessary to ensure the meeting achieves its objectives.

Ensure all the required attendees are aware of the meeting, and any necessary work they may need to do in advance of the meeting. It is important that you know who will be attending, and that they have confirmed their attendance, or if they cannot attend, who will be replacing them.

Ensure the location is thought through, that the room has all the required facilities, and holds enough space for the numbers likely to attend. If you are responsible for the meeting, it is advisable to arrive early to check the room layout, chairs, desk or tables etc.

It is important that any language issues are thought through, and that an interpreter is available if required. This may need arranging a number of weeks beforehand, to ensure the appropriate interpreter is available. Any presentations that have been completed and sent in advance for example, on power point, should be available, and someone should be made responsible for the management of the presentations.

It is  courteous in Ireland to allow other people to speak, and not to interrupt them when they are speaking. It is also useful to obtain feedback after the meeting to  establish what the attendees thought of the content and what was discussed.

Irish people generally tend to be fairly calm, and will not be too concerned should a difficulty arise in the meeting. In less formal meetings, the lack of an agenda is not always a bad thing, as the Irish prefer to improvise rather than be too rigid. If unsure, it is best to check with a secretary or contact you have in the organisation.

If you are planning to meet in one of Ireland’s many pubs, cafes or restaurants, ensure beforehand that the venue can accommodate your party. Going to the pub may sound like a great idea, but an overcrowded noisy establishment might not be conducive to what you need to discuss.
If you have to leave at a certain time to catch a flight, train etc., the Irish will not mind, as they are generally relaxed and understand that getting to and from their country involves many different methods of transport. It is best to mention early on in the meeting, if you have a strict timescale- but do it in a positive and  relaxed way.

Follow up meeting with client

Going to a pub after a meeting is common practice. Whilst accepting the generosity of your Irish hosts, it is important to ensure you take your turn and buy a round  of drinks for your associates.

Knowledge of some of the key Irish laws that are different from home is useful. For example, smoking is banned in all enclosed workplaces, including pubs and restaurants.

The minutes of the meeting will be circulated after the meeting has concluded. Actions of what was agreed and who is responsible will be indicated on this document.

In individual meetings, a record should be kept of what was discussed, and the dates items were agreed to be completed by.

After your return and a short time has passed since your meeting, it is perfectly acceptable to telephone the people you met, especially if you want to confirm something, or maybe just double check the next meeting date or venue. The Irish  appreciate a telephone call, and the opportunity to speak briefly with you before the next face to face meeting.

Business meals

Most Irish people look forward to discussing business in the  informal environment of a restaurant. Generally, business lunches are more common than dinners. It is usually the Irish counterpart who offers to conduct a business meeting in this environment and who also recommends a suitable place to go. However, considering the warm attitude of the Irish towards business meals, it is also possible for the visitor to invite  Irish partners to a business lunch. In this case, it is advisable to make a preparatory inquiry at a local information centre as to where you  can find a suitable restaurant for the business meeting.

Business dinners are usually considered more of a social occasion and are particularly suitable to develop already existing social relationships. Both parties usually agree on whether spouses will be invited to such occasions.

Ireland has an extensive network of traditional local pubs serving the Irish national drink – Guinness stout and  Irish colleagues may opt for discussing business over a pint of Guinness in a cosy Irish pub. This is usually the place where the Irish are particularly outgoing and sociable. However, business is not normally conducted in this way until a later stage of a relationship when  Irish pubs serve as a suitable place to deepen  existing bonds . When invited out for a drink, bringing up the subject of business is not recommended, unless the host does so.

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Business Meeting tips

It is good practice to start a business meeting with an informal conversation about a general topic. This will help to “break the ice” and make the participants comfortable.

Ensure you bring enough business cards and materials about your company. The ideal time for handing these out is at the beginning of the meeting.

Do make direct eye-contact with your Irish business partner. However, this should be done with discretion in order to not  be considered impolite or rude.

Watch out for any signs of communication among your counterparts. The “secret messages” may be often transmitted via seemingly humorous remarks.

When entering a building for the first time, the doorman, receptionist or PA are often the first people you may encounter. A “Good morning/afternoon” greeting and then an explanation of who you are there to see will suffice.

You may be asked to wait a short while until the person you are seeing at the meeting becomes free, this time may be used to chat informally whilst waiting, the Irish tend to discuss fairly impartial subjects like the weather.

The Irish appreciate friendliness and warmth in a person. Establishing a few facts about the town or city you will be meeting in will be appreciated by your hosts. If this is not possible then a positive comment about something on the way from the airport for example would be warmly appreciated.

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