Business meeting etiquette

Importance of Business Meetings

Lithuanian firms are very hierarchical and all the major decisions are made from the top down. During a first meeting, Lithuanians will try to be formal and polite, listening very diligently. They like to ask questions to be sure that they understand what you are saying. Usually, Lithuanians like to build a personal relationship with potential partners before moving the conversation to business. It is essential that you try to speed up this process, as it is critical to the success of the discussion and doing business in Lithuania. Lithuanians prefer to discuss business with someone of equal status so, it is a good idea to let your partner know your position in your company and ask to meet someone at the same level.

The best way to contact someone in Lithuania is to call them on the phone, because if you send an email, the reply might take some time to reach you. In Lithuania, it is still very common to send letters in business communications, but you should expect a reply to take about 10 days.

Small companies operating in technological areas or providing consulting or legal services may prefer to communicate through email. The best advice if you are dealing with modern company with a young manager is to first write an email and then follow-up with a phone call if you don’t receive a response within a reasonable timeframe. In many cases, when small companies get a call from a foreign company for the first time, they respond with the answer: “Ok. Write me an email”.

If you really expect results, it is important that you dedicate time and effort for frequent and continued personal communication. Arriving on time for a meeting is also very important as punctuality is highly valued.

Business Meeting Planning

When you propose a meeting, it is a good idea to offer several dates in order to give your partner a choice of dates. A meeting request should include the topics you would like to discuss, the reason for the meeting and the people you would like to meet. Given that decisions are generally made at the top, it is advisable to ask senior management to take part in the discussions, if you want decisions to be made quickly.

Meeting between companies are generally attended by people of similar status and seniority. Therefore, it is essential that you provide a list of the people attending the meeting from your company, including brief biographical information which can help your partner select meeting attendees from their side.

It is best to ask for confirmation in writing of the people going to be present, including their name and position as well as the time and place of the meeting. If you are not able to attend a meeting, you should notify whoever is organising the meeting and postpone or cancel the meeting. The most appropriate time for a business meeting is between 9am and 1pm, allowing for the option of a business lunch after 12:30pm. The host is responsible for choosing and booking the venue, as well as the meeting room and refreshments.

You should decide on the language of the meeting together with your partner beforehand and inform your host if you will be accompanied by an interpreter or would like your partner to arrange one. Your business partner will know where to find a professional translator with industry-specific knowledge. In the unlikely event that they do not know your business or the products you are selling, bring along some brochures, sample products or other informative materials.

Business meetings tend to be very structured, formal affairs that begin and end with some form of small talk. It is advisable that you let your host take the lead on the subject matter and periods of silence are to be expected. It is important to avoid interrupting someone while they are speaking.

Usually the meetings are set to begin on the hour and if a meeting is proposed at a quarter past the hour, it usually means a short or rushed meeting.

Negotiation Process

Decisions tend to be made from the top down. Avoid hard selling tactics and any sort of conflict or confrontational approach. It is always helpful to know a few words in the native language as a sign of respect and this will undoubtedly generate a friendlier response. For example: “labas” means ‘hello’, “labas rytas” means ‘good morning’, “labas naktys” means ‘goodnight’, “prasad” means ‘please’ or ‘you’re welcome’ and “aciu” means ‘thank you’. Many foreign business partners might think of Lithuanians as reserved and bureaucratic at first. Lithuanians prefer face-to-face meetings and do not give their trust easily. So, you have to build some trust first, if you want to do business in Lithuania. Lithuanians expect that any unsolicited approach is an attempt to sell them something and they expect the worst scenario. So, “American style” sales techniques can have the exact opposite to the desired effect. Business managers who do business with Russia, Ukraine, and Eastern Europe make personal relationships first, business comes later.

Meeting Protocol

Greetings depend on the time of the day. You can say “Laba diena” or “Labas rytas” if you meet during the day and “Labas vakaras” in the evening. When leaving, you can use “Viso gero” to mean ‘see you later’ or ‘goodbye’.

To greet your partner look them straight in the eyes, give a firm handshake, state your name clearly and present your business card. Your Lithuanian partner will do the same and will have their business cards written in both Lithuanian and English. Listen intently when your associate pronounces their name, so that you have an idea of how to pronounce it later. Place their business card in front of you, so that you can refer to it if you have to address the person. You will have to shake hands with everyone present at both the beginning and end of the meeting.

When introduced, refer to your counterparts using their academic title and family name. This is very important, because Lithuanians are very proud of their titles and great status attached to them. At the beginning of a business relationship, it is advisable to be formal. Lithuania has a formal society and it is a good idea to wait for your partner to propose any informal terms.

How to Run a Business Meeting

Although entrepreneurs prefer less formality, it is still important to adopt a formal approach to older workers and government officials. The best tactic is to let the host take the lead on the level of formality.

In Lithuania, business is quite hierarchical; the chair of a meeting is probably the most senior participant. This person will determine the pace at which the meeting proceeds and who may speak at any given time. In addition, they will open the meeting and introduce participants in order of seniority. You will observe that less junior members only talk to their direct counterparts unless replying to questions asked by more senior employees. Thus it is essential that you do the same, so as not to breach the level of etiquette.

Business meetings tend to be highly structured and formal affairs that follow a pre-written agenda. Periods of silence are to be expected and you should avoid interrupting someone while they are speaking.

Lithuanians do not like long meetings and expect you to be well prepared for a meeting with all the relevant information available immediately. You should be ready to answer questions, directly after the presentation.  It is usual to give a small gift when the meeting ends, so it is good to have a small corporate gift that can be given in return.

After the formal close of the meeting, you are likely to be invited to take part in some form of entertainment activity during the evening. You should not decline this invitation, as it will give you an opportunity to develop your relationship with the company.

At meetings, coffee, tea, water, soft drinks will usually be offered and there may be a sandwich lunch depending on the timing.

Follow up Letter after Meeting with a Client

The minutes of a meeting are usually sent a few days after the meeting, summarizing the main points of discussion, the decisions that were taken and the methods by which the desired results may be achieved. The minutes are normally sent by the people hosting the meeting. Ensure that all agreements and decisions are written in both languages, so as to avoid misunderstanding.

If you would like to make certain that everything is done properly, you should include fixed deadlines and guidelines on how tasks should be accomplished, together with who is responsible for each task.

Irrespective of the outcome of the meeting, it is always advisable to write to your hosts and express thanks for their time and effort. Sending a follow-up email shows that you care and are prepared to make the effort required to form a good business relationship.

Business Meals

At the beginning of a business relationship, it is safe to say that Lithuanians will prefer to invite their guests to lunch or dinner in a restaurant, rather than into their homes. But, perhaps after a successful business deal and a few visits to Lithuania, when the business relationship has matured into a friendship, then an invitation to dinner at home, might be forthcoming. Getting invitation to someone’s home shows that your business partner considers you as very important to them, as they are willing to introduce you to their family as a friend.

It is not common to have breakfast meetings and they would usually take place only if a company guest requests them. The venue would then probably be at the restaurant in the hotel where the visitor is staying. Although business lunches happen often, Lithuanians prefer business dinners, where they can become better acquainted with their associates in a more relaxed environment.

Business lunches and dinners are usually fairly formal. Therefore, formal dress is advisable, especially on a first meeting (men should wear a suit with a tie and women should wear a suit or a smart dress). If a business dinner is more for the purposes of entertainment and getting to know each other, casual dress is more appropriate.

Business Meeting Tips

  • You should show expertise in the subject of your negotiations and should not talk down or be arrogant to your Lithuanian partners. Lithuanians, like the majority of people in the former communist countries, are sensitive about being underrated. They are proud and expect to be treated as equal partners. Do not show your emotions in public, it will be taken as weakness and remember to maintain eye contact.
  • Lithuanians are a well educated and very hard working people. Give them time and space, ask for their opinion about any problems and you will be surprised at the number of ideas they may come up with.
  • Trust is very important to Lithuanians. Once they feel they can trust you, they may be prepared to introduce more Lithuanian companies to work with you.
  • It is recommended for foreigners not to criticize Lithuania or Lithuanians. If your partners, during discussions, use critical words about Lithuania or Lithuanians, then your positive comments will help to create a friendly atmosphere.
  • Lithuania has a complex history and Lithuanians are very proud of their nation. They see themselves as Western Europeans. It is better to avoid debates on historical conquests and territorial claims. Always follow up with a short thank you or confirmation email, and do not expect that the Lithuanian host will do it first.

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