Meeting etiquette

Greece-flag-140Recognizing the proper etiquette that should be followed at business meetings in a foreign country is essential. Is planning important? What values and habits should be considered? How formal are meetings? The sections below examine the various issues of a business meeting and cultural diversities in this area.

Importance of business meetings

Greeks wish to be well informed about business meetings, so appointments are necessary and must be arranged in advance. However, it’s possible that meetings can be arranged at short notice, because Greeks are also known for their laidback attitude.

Punctuality is expected, but not critical as the Greek counterpart may also be late. It is advisable to dress conservatively, preferably a suit with tie for men and a dress or skirt for women.

In Greece, meetings are expected to have a set agenda that outlines most of the issues to be discussed; however, the flexibility of the Greek attitude means that items that are not specifically on the agenda can still be introduced for discussion during the meeting. Open discussions and passionate debates are considered as both stimulating and essential for the correct decisions to be taken. It is normal for many people to talk at once during meetings and interruptions are frequent.

Informal meetings are also held frequently and these will not normally follow an agenda.

Traditional office working hours are 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. As first meetings usually tend to be formal, you should be prepared for a strict routine of introductions, handshakes and an exchange of business cards.

Business meeting planning

Appointments and all information about meetings must be confirmed in writing by fax or email. An agenda is rarely sent out in advance. Avoid setting up an appointment during the month of August, as many businesses will be closed for the summer holidays.

Negotiation process

Greek business partners like to establish personal relationships before doing business. Greeks need time to form an opinion and negotiations are usually conducted slowly, so you must be patient.  It is advisable to demonstrate your product or service and provide supporting documentation. Greeks will test your knowledge and experience, so be prepared. Negotiations don’t start during the first meeting, since the first meeting is mostly for introductions. The most senior person will tend to dominate the discussion and the negotiation process.  It is important to know the hierarchy of the company and who the decision maker is.

Meeting protocol

When meeting, Greeks usually smile and shake hands while maintaining eye contact. On entering the meeting room, you can greet your partners in Greek ‘kaliméra’ for good morning or ‘kalispéra’ meaning good evening. When leaving, you should say goodbye to each person, individually.

How to run a business meeting

You should arrive punctually to a business meeting, but expect to wait for your Greek counterpart.  The host should introduce you to the other participants at the meeting. Business meetings will usually start with general conversation. You should introduce the company you represent with a brief but complete presentation. Also, meetings may often run over their allotted time, so it is important to allow plenty of additional time between appointments.

Follow up letter after meeting with a client

Negotiations and discussions can continue after the meeting, before reaching a deal or establish a partnership.

It’s important to maintain personal contacts and exchange information about the negotiation or the project periodically. If the negotiation is finished and a deal is reached, you may need to prepare a written contract, which will be strictly followed and respected by your Greek counterpart.

Business meals

Eating out is a good opportunity to develop trust and get to know your business counterparts. Business meals should be used mainly to cement personal ties. In Greece it is usual to discuss business over a meal in a restaurant; however, since business dinners are social occasions, let your host decide whether or not business will be discussed.

Business meals can provide a unique opportunity for the partners to spend some time together and at the same time discuss about business, in an agreeable environment.

Prior to the meeting, it is common for the Greek counterpart to offer coffee, either in the office or at a local coffee shop. You should not refuse your host’s hospitality, as this would be considered impolite. A business meeting may be followed by a lunch or a dinner in a restaurant. You should ask your counterpart to suggest what dish to taste.

It is common to start lunch by ordering small plates of appetizers (mezedes) with sauces with yoghurt and garlic (tzatziki), with fish eggs (taramosalada) or vine leaves rolls (dolmadàkia).  Famous dishes are: Greek mixed salads (salàtes) like horiatikì with Feta cheese, olives, vegetables and tomatoes; and Moussakà, stewed meat with potatoes and aubergines. Desserts are plentiful with specialities like Baklavà, layers of filo pastry with honey and walnuts. You will probably be offered something to drink: ouzo is an anise liqueur which is traditionally served as an aperitif and meals are always accompanied by Retsina or other Greek wines.

Lunch often starts at 2pm and dinner from 8pm onwards, with meals lasting two or three hours.

Business meeting tips

The following are some useful tips to remember when travelling to or working in Greece:

  •       Greeks like asking personal questions because they want to get to know you before doing business.
  •       Set appointments with the right people. Make sure it’s the person who makes decisions.
  •       Meetings are not as structured as in other cultures and agendas will be used only for more formal meetings.
  •       Several people may speak at once during meetings; this is considered normal behaviour as it indicates that the discussion is interesting.
  •       Punctuality is not as strict as in some other countries, so people may arrive late for meetings.
  •       Appearance is important and smart clothes should be worn.
  •       Although English is widely spoken, you cannot assume that everything you say will be understood, so ask if an interpreter will be needed.

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