Business communication

Estonia flagCommunication is probably the most important aspect of business, yet we tend to take it for granted when doing business in our own country, because we are dealing with people from the same background as ourselves.

It this section we will talk about communication between business cultures. Whilst it is true that business practices vary between countries, there are generally also things that are common to all.  How important is it to have everything in writing? Can you discuss business during lunch? And so on.

This section addresses the differences between face-to-face communication, how to deal with people most effectively via the telephone as well as by letter/fax or e-mail. It also examines the importance of addressing people by their correct title, how you  should introduce yourself  and whether you should give your business card at the beginning or the end of a  meeting.

Face-to-face communication

In Estonian business culture, physical contact is frowned upon. Estonians do not gesticulate during discussions, nor do they make facial expressions.

Business managers prefer to maintain eye contact with their business partners during discussions, since , this is interpreted as being  interested in and committed to the business discussion. Estonians also study facial reactions, so be aware of this. The best way to contact someone in Estonia is to call them on the phone. This is preferable to sending an email, as the reply might take some time to reach you. If you really want something done, then investing in regular and sustained face-to-face interaction is the way to go.

As mentioned above, be aware that eye contact is a crucial part of any business meeting in this part of the world. It conveys interest in the discussion and that you are paying attention. Avoiding eye contact can indicate  disinterest and may be interpreted as attempting to hide something, or may give the impression that you cannot be trusted. Estonians are known for not showing their emotions while discussing business – they wear their ‘poker face’  but verbal communication is direct and straightforward.

Language matters

Estonians are multi-lingual However, not everyone can speak the Estonian language, for example, Russians, even though they might have been born in Estonia. The majority of Estonians speak Russian, as a second language.  English  has always been a compulsory subject at primary school, even during the communist regime. Russian is not an official language and by law any official documents such as contracts and transactions would have to be translated into Estonian.

Therefore, if you are dealing with an older manager, you may wish to have an interpreter with you. English is a popular language in Estonia and a good knowledge of English is an important part of a business education.

International business meetings are conducted in English,  so the expectations of Estonians that  you will  be able to speak their language are low, but any effort is much appreciated.

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Business relationship

As in most countries in the world, business relationships are developed through contacts and then nurtured. Once there is a relationship between  people, it is easy to come to a verbal agreement that can be confirmed later in writing.  Putting an agreement in writing and circulating it for confirmation by all parties, is important, because of language barriers between the groups.  This also serves to clear up potential misunderstandings, and to clarify what has been agreed upon and is  a way for everyone involved, to receive a copy of their rights and responsibilities under the agreement.

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Making contact

The people of Estonia think they have the best location for companies trying to conduct business between Western Europe, Eastern Europe and Russia. The government in Estonia, like every other government in the world, has introduced many business-friendly policies to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) into the country. However, it is recommended to seek advice from a professional body, like the chamber of commerce and industry, trade ministry, governmental advisory services and agencies like Enterprise Estonia for further advice. These agencies have programmes that might be helpful, either in making contact with another company, or setting up a new company.

As with all hierarchical cultures, it is very important to know people in authority and to have their recommendation and introductions to facilitate initial contact.

Most companies send representatives to conferences, exhibitions and business fairs, both at home and abroad, where they can enjoy the opportunity for face-to-face meetings with potential business partners.

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Personal Titles

The best advice regarding titles is to follow what is written on your counterpart’s business card. If there is a title in front of the name then you should address the person by using their title together with their surname. Estonians are formal and polite. They expect the use of a title and surname at a first meeting, but once you are more familiar with each other, they will ask you to stop using their title to address them by their first name.

Do you want to learn more about Estonian business culture?