Business Etiquette

Ireland flagAttitudes and values exist at the core of any culture. They are a reflection of the way people think and behave and having an understanding of these can aid you significantly in successfully concluding your negotiations. For example, you will note in the following section, that both relationships and family are hugely important to the Irish. This can be traced back to the agricultural nature of Irish employment, where large families were necessary to maintain farms. This is one of the biggest points of difference between Ireland and other fast-paced Western European countries. Therefore, when conducting business with the Irish it is important to bear in mind that family and relationships are as significant as the business itself. Using this knowledge can help you overcome many difficulties and ensure that you achieve a successful outcome in your business negotiations. However, as important as it is, family is not the only significant element in Irish culture. The following section outlines other specifics and highlights their implications for business practice.

Corporate social responsibility

 Over the past few years, the corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement has gathered great momentum in Ireland and is now regarded as one of the most important topics. However, some studies indicate that CSR in Ireland is a relatively new issue compared with other countries (Lorraine Sweeney PhD Thesis in 2009). The research also noted that CSR was more prominent in multinational firms based in Ireland than in indigenous Irish firms.

 To recognise corporate social responsibility’s growing importance and the role it plays in enhancing both corporate reputations as well as  communities, Chambers Ireland has done much to highlight CSR activities  throughout the country and has attempted to develop practical policies together with guidelines to encourage the further development of CSR programmes. Chambers Ireland is focusing on establishing and fostering best practice in CSR and initiatives to advocate awareness of the potential of CSR amongst small companies as well as big corporations. The Council includes a number of CSR specialists and high-status business leaders.

The Chambers Ireland President’s Awards for Corporate Social Responsibility were created in 2004 in order to recognise the work conducted by Irish and multinational companies to enhance the civic environment in which they exist, as well as to improve the lives of their employees. This competition provides the opportunity for the business community to advertise their efforts in CSR and to obtain recognition for best practice.  There is a variety of categories in which the awards are presented, covering all areas of CSR.

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Time keeping practices in Ireland differ for foreigners and local associates. When travelling to Ireland to do business, you should ensure that you arrive on time. Being late is seen as impolite and inconsiderate. Thus, it is essential to plan your appointments carefully and to ensure you allocate enough time for transport arrangements. This applies particularly when in Dublin, where there is traffic congestion. If you happen to be running late, you are expected to phone the other party to apologise and inform them about the time of your arrival. If your delay is significant, you should consider postponing the meeting.

On the other hand, as a foreign associate, you are expected to give your Irish counterparts the leeway to be late. Generally, the Irish are not very time conscious and very often are not punctual for business or social meetings. However, usually they are not more than 15 minutes late. When the waiting exceeds this period you should consider telephoning them and re-arranging the meeting.

The Irish relaxed attitude to time also has an impact on delivery deadlines. For the Irish there is no shame in missing a delivery date  so it is essential to keep this in mind and allow for some latitude here. With effective planning and communication these issues can easily be resolved.

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Gift giving

In general, gift giving is not expected for business purposes. If you decide to give a present, the best occasion is at the successful conclusion of negotiations. However, gifts are not expected in Irish business culture.

If you receive an invitation to an Irish home for dinner,  you would be expected   to bring a bouquet of flowers, a box of chocolates, a craft gift from your home region, a box of pastries or a bottle of wine. Particularly suitable is an illustrated book representing your home region. A preserved food product that is unique to your home region is another option; however, preserves must be sealed – canned or bottled – or Irish customs will probably confiscate them.

In Ireland, it is advisable to follow certain rules for giving flowers. Unsuitable flowers are lilies and red or white flowers. Lilies are considered to be appropriate for religious occasions only, and red or white coloured flowers are said to symbolise death.

It is essential to remember that the cost of the gift is considered to be far less important than making a thoughtful choice. Avoid giving expensive or grandiose gifts. If you happen to receive a gift from your Irish counterpart, you should open it in front of the giver and express your gratitude. Similarly, it is expected that you will send a thank-you note after receiving a gift or being a dinner guest.

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Business Dress Code

The standard business dress in Ireland is smart and conservative. Formal suits work best in most situations however, in general, dress tends to be less formal than in Western Europe. Traditional style is represented by tweeds, wools and subdued colours. Particularly unsuitable are flashy colours and styles.

Occasionally, jackets may be taken off, particularly during the summer. It is advisable to follow the lead of your business partners and adjust your style to theirs. However, at the initial stages of the contact a more formal style of clothing is appropriate.

You will also notice a difference between urban and rural business people.  In the country they are generally very friendly and open, making an informal business approach  most successful in this environment.

Women are expected to be well and fashionably dressed and suits or dresses and blazers are recommended. Wearing trousers is still not common for women in Ireland.

Irish people can also have a negative attitude towards people wearing “extravagant” jewellery, and are themselves generally understated with their jewellery as it can be seen as a statement of status or wealth.

Last but not least a raincoat is a must in Ireland. Do not go out without waterproof clothing!

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Bribery and corruption

In general, corruption does not constitute a significant issue for foreign investors in Ireland. There are only minor areas of concern where some issues related to bribery and corruption have been reported. In the past, a small number of public officials have been convicted of corruption however this is not a common occurrence. Other issues have been reported in the pharmaceuticals industry, such as the theft of hospital funds and the complicity of pharmaceutical companies, health workers and public officials in selling or prescribing unsuitable or counterfeit drugs to patients. Currently, there are calls for further police reforms in order to deal with systemic  corruption within the police force. The most discussed issue is the introduction of whistleblower legislation seen as vital for the prevention and detection of corruption in Ireland.

However, overall, in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 2012, Ireland ranks 69th (on a scale from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).

Do you want to learn more about Irish business culture?