Business meeting etiquette in Czech Republic
The safest practice when attending meetings in another country is to ‘act local’. Then you can be confident that your meetings will be successful and your hosts will appreciate your cultural sensitivity.
There are a number of things you need to consider:
- What are the local attitudes to business meetings?
- How should you go about organising a meeting?
- How do you greet people at meetings?
- How should you run a meeting?
- What do you need to think about when conducting negotiations?
- What should you do after a meeting?
Importance of business meetings
In general, the first meeting with a Czech company is characterized by a high level of formality and politeness. Any decisions will depend on who is attending the meeting from the Czech side. If the owner or general manager of the company is present at the first meeting, then you can expect a quick response to whether a business arrangement is of interest; but if the company‘s representative is a departmental head or a subordinate, then they will have to brief the owner before a decision can be made. Once a verbal agreement has been reached, Czech companies prefer to have agreements written up under the direction of their lawyers. A lawyer’s involvement depends on the stage of cooperation, but verbal commitments are not regarded as legally binding, so it is important to have a general agreement drawn up in writing, even if it is not very detailed.
Business meeting planning
- It is recommended to offer options for the dates and time of the meeting and give an indication of what will be discussed, which will give the participants the opportunity to plan and prepare for the meeting.
- Make sure you get a confirmation of attendance from all the attendees prior to the meeting.
- Set out the agenda of the meeting
- Organize the meeting room and equipment (if needed) and seating arrangement
- Arrange translator, if required.
- Refreshment and drinks should also be arranged, depending on how long the meeting is scheduled for
- Don‘t forget to produce copies of any documentation required for the meeting in the language of your business partner.
Taking account of variable working hours, the best time for making contact or for having a business meeting is from 9am to 11.30am and from 12.30pm to 2pm.
The host is in charge of organizing the meeting and has to create the best conditions for the smooth running of the meeting. During the first meeting, it is normal to start by introducing both companies and the initiating party will outline the goal for the meeting, lead the discussion of the problem and summarise the results of the meeting, which both parties must agree upon. The host will normally select meeting attendees according to the status and position of the foreign partner.
In most Czech companies, the first meeting is made with a person in a middle management position. This middle manager will then present the results of the meeting to senior management, who will then make the decision on what the next step should be. If there is a subsequent meeting, a senior manager with decision-making power will normally participate.
For Czech companies with older managers every international language is a foreign language, which can make communicating difficult. On the other hand, you can meet people who overestimate their abilities in a foreign language such that the potential for misunderstandings and miscommunication is much greater. It is important to treat each situation according to its merits and use a professional interpreter with industry-specific knowledge, where it is necessary to ensure that both parties have a precise understanding of the matter under discussion. If the Czech partner knows that their language skills are inadequate, they will organize a professional interpreter. You should advise the Czech side, if you are bringing an interpreter or if you would like to have one present.
It is also possible for a meeting to be held in a third language, which puts both parties on a level playing field. It is recommended that you check with your Czech business partner as to which language the meeting will be conducted in.
Czech negotiating can be divided into two different approaches. The older generation, the people who lived through communism, have a laid back attitude to negotiation, preferring to take their time before making a decision and not liking to be rushed into anything. They do not like aggressive, loud and fast-talking ‘young guns’ who think they know everything. They need to feel comfortable when negotiating, which means they prefer to talk to someone in their own age group with whom they can create a friendly atmosphere and crack jokes.
The younger generation are more westernized. Most of them studied for their postgraduate qualification in either Western Europe or America, so their negotiating skills are more British or American than Czech. Where the older generation might start the meeting with a discussion about tourist sites in Prague, the younger person will likely jump straight into the business discussion with the aim of being as efficient as possible.
Once both sides have reached an agreement, the Czech side will want a written confirmation with all the terms and conditions outlined in full. This is the nomal way that business is done and not because of any lack of trust.
The basic way of greeting people is by shaking their right hand and saying “dobrý den” (good morning/afternoon), “dobrý večer” (good evening) or welcoming phrases “vítám vás”(welcome) or “těší mne, že vás mohu přivítat v naší společnosti” (I am pleased to welcome you to our company). The host will always offer their hand first, regardless of gender. When shaking hands, you should have a firm handshake as a weak handshake can be taken to mean that you are weak or unsure of yourself. Conversely, a handshake that is too strong might be an indication that you will be inflexible and not open to proposals that might be put forward in the meeting. It is always good to maintain eye contact as a demonstration of openness and sincerity. You should avoid over friendly gestures like slapping on the back, hugging, kissing on the cheek or hands in any business situation.
In all Czech business sectors everybody gives out business cards. Business cards are never exchanged during the greeting, but should be done at the beginning of the meeting, so that everybody knows with whom they are talking, what position they hold and for which company.
Business cards are used as a means of introduction and to provide basic contact information. The exchange of business cards also enables you to identify a potential partner and helps you to know how to address that person. The function of the business card is becoming more important in the Czech business community and more thought and effort is now being put into their design. Even though the design of business cards should be simple and informative, some SMEs use it as a form of advertising. For most Czech companies, the language used on their business cards is Czech.
Companies with international partnerships may have business cards with more than one language i.e. Czech and English. It is important to explain the position of the person to the foreign business partner, because of the potential for difficulties with the correct pronunciation of names and accurate translation of job titles. If written in Czech, a job title might sound similar to an equivalent position in another language, but the words could mean something totally different.
How to run a business meeting
If the Czech side is hosting the meeting, then they prepare the agenda and run the meeting. The senior manager from the Czech company will introduce their team, including their positions in the company and academic titles, at the beginning of a meeting. The senior member of the visiting team will then introduces their team and an exchange of business card between all the participants will take place. The Czechs will then present the agenda for the meeting and begin the discussion.
During the meeting, some refreshments will normally be offered, such as coffee, tea, water and biscuits. The host has to prepare the minutes of the meeting, including the main points of the meeting, conclusions drawn from the discussion and a schedule of further steps to be taken. The meeting minutes are distributed within the week for review and approval and, if no modifications are requested, a confirmation of the agreement will be issued.
Follow up letter after meeting with client
If it has been agreed to continue with the partnership, then the timetable plays a very important role in defining the activities of both business partners. After the tasks are formulated, deadlines are fixed and dates and places of future meetings are decided upon.
In the case of one or both partners not seeing any future in their cooperation, each party has the right to terminate negotiations and a full explanation for the decision will then be expected.
Sharing a meal is generally one of the more enjoyable aspects of doing business in another country. We have included it as a separate section because formal meals can represent an opportunity to develop social relationships, which can be essential for strengthening any long-term business partnerships. But this aspect presents a whole series of questions. Who pays? Should you offer to pay? When and what do they eat? Could you refuse a specific dish? Can you discuss business at the table during the meal or when is it most appropriate?
- Attitudes to Business Meals
Most Czech business people would never contemplate hosting a business dinner in their own home. Inviting a business partner for dinner at home happens only after their relationship is far more personal. Therefore, most Czechs will invite their business partners to a local restaurant. There are no written rules on how to begin a conversation or when it is appropriate to talk about business. Mostly, it depends on the host and the business discussion will begin after the meal has been ordered, depending on how much time both parties have.
- Restaurant Etiquette
The host will always choose the restaurant, make the reservation and pay for the meal, including the tip. An invitation to lunch will usually offered during the first meeting, whereas a meeting to finalize the details of a business agreement is usually held in the more formal surrounding of the company’s office. If the invitees will be meeting at the restaurant and not travelling together, it is recommended to arrive on time. There are no strict rules on where to sit, although if there are only two people, then you will probably sit opposite each other.
The dress code for lunch and dinner would be formal business attire, such as a dark coloured suit for men and something equally professional for women. If you are not sure what to wear, it is best to ask the host for advice.
- Food and Drink
In Czech culture you are not obliged to accept everything you are offered. The national dish is pork and cabbage with potato dumplings, but the type of food depends on the style of restaurant. A typical meal will consist of three courses: a cold appetiser or soup, main dish and desert; and it really does not make any difference if you finish your food or leave something on the plate.
The Czechs have a beer drinking culture, so they will be morely likely to drink beer with a meal than wine, however guests should feel free to order whatever they prefer to drink. In the case of a more official business lunch or dinner, or when the occasion calls for it, the host may raise a toast to the business partner or success of the partnership.
- Other Issues (Including Restaurant vs. Home)
Smoking is restricted in a number of public places in the Czech Republic and about 60% of restaurants are now non-smoking or have a separate area for smokers. However, smoking has not yet been officially banned in pubs or restaurants and is not taboo during a business meeting. It is common courtesy to ask whether anyone minds, before you smoke and it is best to follow the lead of your host and their preferences.
Business meeting tips
- Do not underestimate a Czech business partner; give them enough space during the meeting, listen to their ideas and recommendations and you may be surprised with different ideas and new ways of looking at things.
- Come prepared and be confident, but not arrogant, because Czech managers are very sensitive to this.
- Do not look down on your Czech partners. You want to gain their trust and overcome any perception of distance between you. There is a Czech rule that says that intelligent and well-educated people behave modestly.
- You should present your opinions but not force them upon others as this was an approach that many Czech managers experienced during the economic transformation, and will likely alienate them as potential partners.
- Both partners should come to the meeting table as equals and treat each other with respect and openness; active participation of both sides in the discussion will be taken as a sign of their interest.
- If you have the feeling during the meeting that your partner is pessimistic or not active in the discussion due to their lack of understanding or self confidence, then you should simplify the presentation of your strategy, focusing on aims and expected results.
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