Communication is a crucial aspect of doing business. Dealing with people from a different background requires the ability to communicate efficiently and understand something about the differences in communication. It is important to know how to deal with people by telephone or by letter/fax, how to address someone by their correct title, how to introduce yourself, etc.
The best way to contact someone in Latvia is to make a telephone call. Latvians enjoy using their phone and they will gladly receive your call. Contact by email is becoming increasingly popular, but response times still vary considerably and it may take a while before you receive an answer. Nevertheless, email is often preferred in the business environment because there is a clear written record that can easily be referenced.
Letters are also popular in Latvia for business communications, but this is definitely a slower form of communication with replies taking up to two weeks.
To get things done, it is best to invest in regular and constant direct interaction. Latvian business people like to look straight into your eyes while discussing business; so, eye contact is an important part of business meetings in this area of the world. Failure to make eye contact signals a lack of interest and may be interpreted as an effort to hide something. Shaking hands is an imperative part of greeting one’s partner. Latvians shake hands with all participants at both the beginning and the end of meeting. As they are not talkative by nature, Latvians prefer to get straight to the point without small talk. They do not show their emotions while discussing business and their verbal communication style is simple and direct.
Most Latvians speak more than one language. Most people over the age of 15 are likely to speak Russian, as there are still lots of schools in Latvia that use it as the language in which children are taught. Many Russians still live in Latvia as a result of the occupation; for this reason, the second language of Latvia is Russian. In business, Russian is the language of choice for middle-aged professionals working in Eastern European companies, while English is usually preferred if the potential partners are younger or from a western company.
If you want to break the ice, try to learn some Latvian words and surprise your host.
Latvians are culturally reserved; yet, as soon as some familiarity has been established, they will become more comfortable.
Useful Words and Phrases
- Hello! = Labdien!; Hi! Sveiks!
- Good morning! = Labrit!
- Good evening! = Labvakar!
- Goodnight! = Arlabunakti!
- Days of the week:
- Numbers: 1-viens, 2-divi, 3-tris, 4-cetri, 5-pieci, 6-sesi, 7-septini, 8-astoni, 9-devini, 10-desmit
Apart from their own language, many Latvians speak Russian (most people over 25) and English. In Latvia, there are many Russians and Polish people and business people from the other Baltic States. Find out where the person you are meeting is from so that you can make arrangements for the right interpreter, where one is needed.
Since 1991, schools in Latvia have taught a foreign language from the age of 9 and a second foreign language from the age of 12. Favourite foreign languages are English, Russian, German and French.
(source: European Centre for Modern Languages: Modern language learning and teaching in Latvia: www.ecml.at)
In some cases Latvians are very suspicious of something they do not know, so you may find it useful to get a mutual third party to introduce you to your potential business partner. You can even ask the third party to participate in a first meeting and commission that person to open business contacts and/or represent your company in Latvia. Businessmen in Latvia know one another very well; they have created a ‘clan’ and their community is quite closed.
Once a contact has been established, it is important to make frequent visits to Latvia to keep the relationship going. In business, personal relationships are vital. For important business issues, face-to-face discussion, visits and calls are needed to build the trust required for a long lasting relationship.
The strategic location of Latvia on the Baltic Sea makes it an ideal distribution point between Europe and Asia and many business-friendly policies have been introduced to attract foreign direct investment. Nevertheless, if an opportunity to invest in Latvia arises, it is recommended to seek advice from a professional body, such as a chamber of commerce, industry body or trade association, as well as government advisory and investment bodies.
Chamber of commerce and industry: http://www.chamber.lv/pub/ [Latvian, English]
Most companies send representatives to business fairs, exhibitions or conferences at home and abroad because these are excellent venues to meet potential business partners. Events and dates for exhibitions and business fairs: http://www.eventseye.com/fairs/c1_trade-shows_latvia.html
Whenever possible, it is better to be introduced to a Latvian business by a third party who is known by both businesses. This will ensure that the foreign business partner receives a warm reception and will assure the Latvian company that the approach is serious and should be given the utmost attention..
If this approach is not possible, the next best thing would be to use a suitable written form to overcome possible linguistic barriers, such as a formal letter or fax. If you do not speak Latvian, it is important to let your potential partners know and arrange for translation where appropriate. Email is normally used for day-to-day communications, but not for first contact; although, an increasing number of companies are beginning to adopt this approach.
The method of address in Latvia is very formal. If a person has a position in the company, Latvians use it in their forms of address (e.g. Mr. Director.) Address your business partner according to what is written on their business card, using their title together with the surname, for example Ing. Sakalauskas. Academic titles are rarely used. While they might expect you to use the title at the beginning of the relationship, once you become more familiar with each other, they will certainly ask you to stop using it.