The safest practice when organising and attending meetings in another country is to ‘act local’. In this way, you can be confident that your meetings will be successful and your hosts will appreciate your cultural sensitivity.
There are a number of things you need to consider:
- What are the local attitudes to business meetings?
- How should you go about organising a meeting?
- How do you greet people at meetings?
- How should you run a meeting?
- What do you need to think about when conducting negotiations?
- What should you do after a meeting?
Importance of business meetings
As with most countries, business meetings are accepted as a necessity of doing business in Croatia. Most Croatian business people use the first meeting as an opportunity to get to know their partner and they will need two or three meetings before they are able to decide if they are going to do business with you.
These meetings are used as a form of bonding between the two people or group to gauge the level of trust between them before starting business arrangement.
Business meeting planning
- It is appropriate to offer several options for the dates and time of the meeting and give an indication of what should be discussed. Make sure you get a confirmation of attendance from the attendees
- Set out the agenda of the meeting
- Organize the meeting room and equipment (if needed) and seating arrangement
- Arrange a translator, if required
- Refreshment and drinks should also be arranged, depending on how long the meeting is scheduled for
- Don‘t forget to produce copies of any documentation required for the meeting in the language of your business partner.
It might take several meetings for your Croatian business partners to warm up and be more receptive and less formal, it is therefore better to take the time to develop a more personal relationship with him/her to facilitate smoother business cooperation. A degree of cross cultural adaptability is also necessary.
Remember that business is conducted slowly and there is a great deal of red tape to get through; Croatians are not straight forward to deal with. They often say things in a roundabout fashion. Politeness prevents many Croatians from giving an irrefutable “no” and phrases such as “It is difficult” or “We will see” are often negative responses.
The basic way of greeting people is by shaking the right hand and saying “Dobro jutro” (good morning), “Dobar dan” (good day or good afternoon). When addressing a man, the correct phrase is “dobro došao”, when addressing a woman use “dobro došla” and for a group of people or an older person use “dobro došli”. Irrespective of gender, the host offers their hand first. So, when introducing yourself, use both your first and last names and shake hands. Exchanging business cards is usually the next step. As in Western meetings, you are expected to address senior staff in a formal manner, using last names and titles rather than first names.
What to do:
- Do show respect towards everyone you meet, including people that you do not know, as Croatians will often acknowledge strangers in passing.
- Do ask Croatians for their opinions on the subject matter at hand, as they will be happy to assist you and this will help you earn their trust.
- Do translate one side of your business card into Croatian. While not a necessity, this shows respect and will impress your Croatian business partners.
What not to do:
- Do not shake hands in a weak manner; it has to be a firm handshake. Croatian partners might get the impression that you are weak or are not sure of yourself.
- On the other hand, do not overdo the firmness of the handshake. The way you shake hands says how open you are to the meeting. It is good while shaking hands to maintain direct eye contact.
- Do not use overly friendly gestures like slapping on the back, hugging, kissing on the cheek etc. Also, the kissing of hands is not acceptable for a first meeting.
How to run a business meeting
If the Croatian company is hosting the meeting, you should expect a little diversion from the agreed program. After all the pleasantries, the meeting starts with small talk (like getting to know each other), Croatians are very demonstrative when they talk, so they will not feel intimidated if you are also demonstrative. Don’t be surprised if your meeting does not follow the written agenda because they sometimes allow the discussion to go in a different direction.
Depending on how long the meeting is, there might be some refreshment provided in the office or a working lunch at a nearby restaurant; and, if it is an all day meeting, you may expect a dinner invitation afterwards.
Follow up letter after meeting with client
If a first meeting is successful, it will usually outline a number of action items that will need to be completed or a time period that should elapse before a follow-up meeting can take place. However, once there is an agreement then the timetable for the rest of the activities has to finalized, tasks are formulated, deadlines are fixed and dates and places of future meetings are arranged.
Dining is generally one of the more enjoyable aspects of doing business in another country. We have included this as a separate section because formal meals can represent an opportunity to develop social relationships, which, as we all know, can be essential for strengthening any long-term business relationship. However, this presents a whole series of questions. Who pays? Should you offer to pay? When and what do they eat? Could you refuse a specific dish? What to wear? Can you discuss business at the table during the meal or when is it most appropriate?
- Attitudes to Business Meals
Business meals are used not only to discuss business but also as an opportunity to relax, socialize and get to know your partners.
- Restaurant Etiquette
The host of the business meeting is in charge of choosing the restaurant, making the reservation and paying at the end of the meal. An invitation to lunch is usually offered during the first meeting, whereas meeting to finalize the details of a business deal is usually held in the more formal surrounding of the company’s office.
It is recommended you arrive on time. There are no strict rules on how to sit, but if there are only two people then you will probably sit opposite each other.
Formal dress is recommended, with a dark coloured suit or jacket and trousers with tie for men and something smart for women.
- Food and Drink
Traditional Croatian cuisine reflects widely diverse cultural and geographic influences. Some are a result of Croatia’s proximity to the sea and fertile farmland, and some are the result of foreign occupiers who imported their tastes and recipes. Croatians are very proud of their gastronomic traditions.
Lunch (rucak) generally is Croatia’s main meal. It is often a three course meal of soup, roast meat with a side dish and a dessert. Lunch starts from about 12am till late afternoon and often with a small glass of plum brandy.
Some typical Croatian food: Dalmatian smoked pork (prsut), paprika flavoured sausage (kulen), turkey with macaroni (mlinci) and Croatian fish dish (brodet and pasticada) are a must when you visit Croatia. Also delicious and well worth trying are the salted pilchards (a type of herring), mushrooms, sheep cheese and the strong Slavonian sauces.
Croatians have a long history of making quality wine and most of the wineries are situated on the coast. They produce red wine like Teran and Merlot and white wine like Graševina, Portugizac and Malvazija.
Beer (Pivo) is very popular in Croatia and the two best-known Croatian brewers are Ozusjko and Karlovacko.
- Other Issues (Including Restaurant vs Home)
In most cases, a business host will choose to have a business lunch or dinner in a restaurant rather than at home. Inviting a business partner for dinner at home happens only after a more personal relationship has developed. Smoking during a business meeting is not a taboo and depends on the restaurant and the host. It is commonly accepted good manners to ask permission to smoke.
For further information, please see below:
Business meeting tips
Croatian business etiquette (Do’s and Don’ts)
- Do show respect towards everyone you meet, including people that you do not know, as Croatians will often acknowledge strangers in passing
- Do ask Croatians for their opinions on the subject matter at hand, as they will be happy to assist you and this will help you earn their trust
- Do translate one side of your business card into Croatian. While not a necessity, this shows respect and will impress your Croatian business partners
- Don’t discuss religion, war, and other former Yugoslavian ethnicities. These subjects are taboo in Croatian business culture
- Don’t openly criticise your Croatian colleagues. Croatians are very proud and are easily offended, so make suggestions rather than complaints and avoid direct confrontation
- Don’t make plans, either business or personal, at the weekend without the consent of your Croatian colleagues. Weekends are considered family time and
- Croatians do not tend to let business interfere with their personal plans
For further information, please see below:
- http://www.communicaid.com/access/pdf/library/culture/doing-business-in/Doing%20Business%20in%20Croatia.pdf (Communicaid)
- http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/intercultural/management/croatia.html (Kwintessential)