Business communication

Turkey-flag-140It’s important to know the habits and communication patterns of the country you are doing business with. Effective communication can bring you closer to making a business deal successful. Turkey has many traditional beliefs and values, therefore an understanding of its culture will bring you closer to future business success.

This section will provide you with information concerning the verbal and non-verbal aspects of communication and business practices, including addressing people correctly and business meals.

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Face-to-face communication

As personal relationships are very important for Turks, a number of verbal and non-verbal communication habits should be considered when doing business in Turkey.

Non-verbal Communication

  • People greet each other by shaking hands or by kissing on both cheeks.
  • When an elderly person enters a room, it is expected that you will stand up in order to greet them.
  • Crossing  your arms or putting  your hands in your pockets while facing or talking to someone is impolite.
  • Tipping your head forward means ‘yes’, but  lifting your head backwards and raising your eyebrows means ‘no’
  • Staring is common among the Turkish people, so don’t be concerned if you are stared at.
  • It is unfriendly to step backwards if a Turk is standing close to you, as they tend to stand quite close when speaking.
  • It is important to maintain direct eye contact while speaking,as a sign of sincerity.
  • The use of hand gestures and facial expressions in conversation is very common.

Verbal Communication

When communicating with Turkish people first impressions are important. So, a good way to make a good first impression is to speak highly of Turkey, its natural resources, people, geographic importance and your personal experiences as a visitor. Showing interest and excitement at tasting the local foods and demonstrating knowledge of the language  will also make a good impression.

It is best to avoid speaking about religion and politics during the initial meetings. These are highly sensitive topics that require local knowledge and an appreciation for the views of your host. The wearing of the traditional Muslim headscarf (hijab) is also a controversial topic in Turkey that should be avoided.

Humour is greatly appreciated, although any jokes should be tempered with respect and consideration for your business partners.

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Language matters

The official language of Turkey is Turkish. According to data from Kwintessential, Turkish is spoken by over 63 million people mainly in Turkey, with smaller groups in Germany, Bulgaria, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Northern Cyprus, Greece, and other parts of Eastern Europe, Caucasia and Central Asia.

Common minority languages spoken in Turkey are Arabic, Circassian and Kurdish.

Historically, the Turks have been a nomadic culture and have come into contact with many other languages. However, traditionally they have not shown any eagerness to learn foreign languages.

English is taught in most of the public secondary schools. French and German are also being taught, but the majority of the students choose English. However, German has become quite popular in recent years due to the great mobility of Turkish workers to Germany and contact with the language.

Although many young people have a fairly good command of the English language, the older generations may not.  Therefore, when dealing with senior managers in most companies, it is recommended to use an interpreter in order to avoid misunderstandings or misinterpretations.


Business relationships

Personal relationships in Turkey are developed to strengthen business relationships. You have to win Turkish people’s trust before doing business with them. In fact, a business relationship is a personal relationship and by winning your business partner’s friendship and trust, that does not necessarily mean that they will trust anyone else from your company. This is important when selecting key personnel who will represent a company in Turkey as changing representatives at a later date will directly affect the business relationship. Any new individuals who are introduced may be required to develop and build personal relationships from scratch, even when there has been a strong business relationship up to that point.

The Turkish business environment exhibits much respect for rank, education and authority. It is usual that the most senior person in the company makes the decisions. However, the decision maker will often involve other people in the company in that process due to the Turkish culture’s strong sense of collectivism.

Personal relationships in Turkey can help to create a network of acquaintances and third party introductions are important for building trusting relationships. So, existing relationships may be the starting point for getting to know other people as Turks may initially be hesitant to develop a business relationship with you, if you are not a family member or a part of a close circle of friends.

‘Saving face’ is important in Turkey. Turks tend to be very proud and may be easily offended; so be careful not to embarrass another person.

As stated in Communicaid, Culture and Communication Skills Consultancy, website, “in the Turkish business culture, the distinctions between the professional and personal domains of life are not clearly defined and may overlap. As a result of the value placed on the family unit in Turkey, the most senior business person is viewed as a father or mother figure who should consider the well-being of their employees’ family and social duties.” In Turkey, age is considered a sign of wisdom and should be respected in all aspects of society.

Business contact

Turkish people are rather experienced in working with foreign businesses. Foreign managers consider Turks flexible and practical. The best way to approach them is by phone and email in the early stages, then by following up with direct communications.

When interacting with colleagues and acquaintances, an arm’s length is an appropriate amount of interpersonal space. However, personal space is closer for Turks than what would be considered usual for many foreigners; so this can be a little awkward for some people. For closer relationships like friends and family members, interpersonal space becomes even smaller and there is a reasonable amount of touching.

Public gestures of affection are limited, even though touching is culturally accepted norm in non-verbal communication without any need of there being an intimate relationship.

Handshakes are important to Turks. It is important to shake hands when greeting someone and also when leaving, as courtesy is considered a sign of respect. It is recommended to develop personal relationships and participate in networking at all times.

Personal titles

In Turkish business practices, addressing a Turkish professional by his or her occupational title alone, such as ‘Doctor’ or ‘Lawyer’, is considered respectful.

You may also hear the phrase ‘efendim’, meaning  ‘my master’, which Turks use quite often as a polite way of addressing people they do not know personally. It is typically heard from waiters, secretaries, taxi drivers, doormen, shop staff and service workers.

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