Latvians are considering the business meeting a form to know your partner and to create and consolidate a relationship. They are taking very seriously the meeting and spent time to prepare them. Being in time, stick to the agenda, rise important issues, coming with idea and proposal will demonstrate that you are also dedicated to the subject in discussion.
Importance of business meetings
Latvian firms are hierarchical and essential decisions are made by the senior management. So, a business meeting without a top manager routinely becomes an opportunity to exchange ideas, which can later be presented to the senior management for a decision.
Latvians do not like long meetings; they prefer to get to the point and finish as soon as possible. They like to speak their minds and will openly tell you if they find that you are unprepared or if they reject your proposal. They also prefer to do business with partners of the same status as their own. So, it would be a good idea to let your Latvian partner know your position in your company in order to meet with someone at the appropriate level. Latvians prefer to have agreements written on paper, signed and sealed. Verbal agreements are not legally binding and are not treated with respect. Consequently, agreements, deadlines and procedures have to be set down on paper and signed by both parties.
Business meeting planning
When proposing a meeting, it is important to offer several possible dates and allow your partner to make a choice. When requesting a meeting you should state the subject you wish to discuss, why you want to meet and the participants you wish to meet. If you want quick decisions, invite the management to participate. Latvians prefer one-to-one meetings, so it is best to limit the number of meeting attendees to one or two people at most from each side. Inform your partner of the identity of the person(s) participating from your side and their position in your company and ask your Latvian partner to do the same. It is desirable to obtain a written confirmation for the place and time of the meeting and for the people who are going to attend. If you cannot attend the meeting for any reason, it is important to call or write in order to cancel the meeting. The favorite time for a business meeting in Latvia is from 9am to 1pm. A business lunch can also be arranged, after 12:30pm. The host will be in charge of reserving the venue, the meeting room and the refreshments. You should agree on the language of the meeting and let your host know whether you intend to bring a translator. In case your business or products have not been introduced to your hosts, take some samples, brochures or other informative material with you.
Business negotiation is Latvia is tough. The host is not easily moved, once they have adopted a position. The main thing is to be specific and be ready to bluff, if necessary. Latvians do not express their emotions during negotiation, so it is best to adopt a similar approach and not show any sign of weakness. The time required for negotiation depends on the attitude of the partners and the nature of the sector. It usually takes longer to negotiate with the public sector than to do business with the private sector.
When you greet your partners, look them in the eyes, shake hands firmly, say your name clearly and offer your business card. They will do the same and usually their business cards will be written in both Latvian and English. Keep any business cards at hand for easy reference during the meeting. Shake hands with all the participants at the beginning and the end of the meeting. When introduced and in the early stages of a business relationship, it is advisable to adopt a formal approach by addressing people with their family name and educational title. As Latvia is a formal society, it is better to allow your partner to take the lead in progressing to more friendly terms. If your host invites you to call them by their first name, this is a sign of a comfortable relationship, but not necessarily that you are negotiating on friendly terms.
How to run a business meeting
Latvians are very careful in their approach to business meetings. They generally follow the agenda arranged for the meeting and do not like interrupting while someone else is talking. If they do not understand something, they will ask questions. Try to speak clearly using simple language, if the meeting takes place without an interpreter, but be wary of seeming patronising. Latvians are reserved, but determined; once they have reached a decision, they will not change it. When you are presenting a project, it should be very well researched and provide enough evidence to convince your prospective partners to get involved. The main determining factor is how much money the Latvian contact can make from cooperating with your company. As it is the senior management that makes any decisions, do not expect any decision to be made during the meeting or immediately thereafter. The management will need to be briefed about your proposal and take time to think about it before any decisions can be made. During meetings, coffee, tea, soft drinks and water will be offered and, occasionally, a sandwich lunch may be organised.
Follow up letter after meeting with client
A few days after the meeting, a written memo that summarizes the essence of the discussion, the decisions the partners have agreed on and the actions to be carried out will be distributed by one of the attendees. Agreements and decisions should be set down in writing in both languages, to avoid misunderstandings. The inclusion of fixed deadlines and dates for actions and decisions with the names of those responsible is essential to ensure that things get done. Whether or not a meeting is successful, it is always a good idea to write to your host and thank them for their time and effort.
Latvians prefer to invite their guests to lunch or dinner at a restaurant, rather than to their homes. But, after a few visits to Latvia when you have got to know each other better, a business relationship can develop into a friendship. At this point, an invitation to dinner at the home of the host might be forthcoming, so that they can introduce you to their family as a friend. You might also be invited to visit their “summer house” or to go fishing. Breakfast meetings are uncommon and will only happen at the request of the visitor. Business lunches are common, but a business dinner is preferred and is reserved for relaxing and getting to know one other. Business lunches and dinners are usually somewhat formal, so formal dress is recommended, especially on first meeting. When the purpose of the business dinner is to entertain and spend time together in getting to know each other, then more casual dress is appropriate. At the beginning and during lunch or dinner, short toasts will be raised. Therefore, be prepared to make a toast yourself. You are not obliged to eat everything put in front of you, but it is very important to say how good the meal was and express your gratitude for the invitation.
The host will usually recommend and make reservations at a restaurant that offers traditional local food, but they will ask their guest for their preferences. If you are not being picked up from your hotel by the host, then arriving on time is expected. At the restaurant, you will usually be asked to choose your seat first and, for two people, face to face is the most common seating arrangement. It is recommended, even if the restaurant has an English menu, to ask for suggestions from your host or the waiter, especially if you are interested in tasting the local cuisine. You may offer to pay, but usually your host will politely refuse and pay the bill themself.
Latvian foods generally do not use strong spices and there is a reasonably high fat content. Latvians eat a lot of meat, mostly pork, beef and chicken, except along the coast where fish is more plentiful. Typically, a Latvian dish includes some kind of fried meat or fish in a cream sauce, with potatoes, rice or vegetables and a fresh salad. Soup made from pork or fish with vegetables like onions and carrots or fresh nettles are often eaten as an entrée or starter. Dairy products and fruit form the base for various desserts. At lunch time, Latvians usually drink fruit juice, ‘kefirs’, milk, tea or coffee. Alternatively, water is always an acceptable option for a business lunch.
The most common beverage consumed in Latvia during the day is medium strength black coffee or tea. However, their favourite beverages are beer and vodka.
In Latvia, there are many beliefs and customs related to food. Offering food to others around you when you are eating is considered normal, especially to children. The first slice from a loaf of bread is called the ‘farmer’s son’ and it is usually offered to a young woman as a port-bonheur for wealth and prosperity, in the tradition that they can marry into wealth.
Another tradition dictates that a loaf of bread should be sliced from the fatter end first in order that the eldest daughter will marry first.
Eating in Latvia is a serious business, so you should be calm and act with decorum. It is important to show respect for the food and for those who have worked to put it on the table. Good appetite! Labu apetiti!
Business meetings tips
It is important to be well-prepared and knowledgeable in the subject of your negotiations when presenting to your Latvian business partners. Like most people in former communist countries, Latvians resent being underrated and will react negatively to any arrogant or patronising behaviour. They expect to be treated as equal partners, are well educated and very hard working people. If you give them time and ask for their opinions, you may be surprised at their ideas and ability to innovate. Trust is very important to Latvians. Once they feel they can trust you, they may be prepared to introduce you to more Latvian companies who would work with you.