Business meeting etiquette

Austrain business culture guideBusiness meetings

Meetings come in all shapes and sizes, and are more important than ever in business today. There are the everyday office meetings, board meetings, and seminars. Meetings can now be face-to-face, teleconference, videoconference, or online via the Internet and are a common form of corporate life in Austria.

Even though it is one country, do take into consideration that there are huge differences between eastern and western Austria. If you compare the business behaviour of people from Vienna with that of the people from Vorarlberg, it is similar to comparing Spanish people with US Americans. If possible try to speak to a local person before a meeting in order to get to know the specifics of the person/region.

As you will be travelling to and from a foreign country, it is essential that you recognise the value of planning for a meeting according to the principles of proper etiquette. Deciding the contents of the meeting and the appropriate negotiation strategies should be based on the cultural habits and customs of the country. The appropriate steps should be taken when preparing an agenda and it is advisable to circulate agendas in advance to ensure everyone’s preparedness. Ensure that the facilities that you require for the business meeting are available and ready to use. Presentations should be well prepared, comprehensive, clear, well written, and informative and presented in a formal, rational, professional manner – appealing always to the intellect of business people in Austria.

The following section deals with various stages of a business meeting and examines the issues of cultural sensitivity in this area.

Importance of Business Meeting

Meetings are taken seriously in Austria and may go into considerable detail. Business meetings follow a formal procedure. Austrian managers work from precise and detailed agendas, which are usually followed rigorously; moreover, meetings always aim for decisive outcomes and results, rather than providing a forum for open and general discussion. The formality of a meeting may make it difficult for an outsider to assess how things are going, but a lengthy examination of a proposal will indicate serious intent.

In Austrian business dealings, it is important to provide solid facts and examples to back up proposals, given the Austrian preference for analytical thinking and rational explanations. Do not use exaggerated or indirect communication styles during business meetings with your Austrian counterparts since this creates an impression of insincerity and dishonesty. Business is conducted at a slow pace. Be patient. The business community is very political. Everyone is careful about what they say to or about anyone else.

Austrian business culture has a well-defined and strictly observed hierarchy, with clear responsibilities and distinctions between roles and departments. Power is held by a small number of people at the top. In formal Austrian business meetings, it is customary for the highest-ranking person to enter the room first. However, in more informal business situations this is less important. Contacts are vital to  business success in Austria. Use an Austrian representative where possible to assist in this. Contact your embassy for more information.

For further information, please see below:

Business Meeting planning

When setting up a meeting with your Austrian counterparts, there are a number of matters to consider in order to ensure the best possible outcome from your negotiations. The following are elements to deliberate before your process begins:

  • Appointments in Austria are necessary and should be made 3 to 4 weeks in advance when meeting with private companies.
  • You are advised to avoid making business appointments for the months of July and August as well as around the dates of Austrian national holidays.
  • Punctuality is taken extremely seriously. If you expect to be delayed, telephone immediately and offer an explanation.
  • It is extremely rude to cancel a meeting at the last minute as it could jeopardise your business relationship.
  • Meetings are generally formal and initial meetings are used to get to know each other. These allow your Austrian colleagues to determine if you are trustworthy.
  • This process is often very time consuming.
  • Letters should be addressed to the top person in the functional area, include the person’s name as well as their proper business title. Do not forget the importance of rank in Austrian business. Never set up a meeting for a lower ranked company employee to meet with a higher ranked person.
  • If you write to schedule an appointment, the letter should be written in German.
  • Expeditious handling of correspondence is indispensable. Telephone calls and faxes should be returned promptly.
  • Although German is the preferred business language, most upper level managers are quite capable of carrying on a conversation in English. However, an interpreter is advisable in order to create the correct business impression.
  • Participants must arrive dressed appropriately for the occasion.
  • Business cards are exchanged without formal ritual.
  • Have one side of your card translated into German. Although not a business necessity, it demonstrates attention to detail.
  • Include any advanced academic degrees or honours on your business card.
  • If your company has been in business for a long time, include the founding date on your card as it demonstrates stability.

As with most European countries, accepted etiquette in Austria relies on professionalism, good business sense and formality. Bearing in mind all of the above will ensure positive results.

Negotiation process

Austrians tend to be more emotional than their German counterparts in business. Avoid confrontational behaviour or high-pressure tactics and do not make the mistake of insisting that everyone agrees with your opinion or attempt the ‘hard sell’. This can be counter-productive in the long run. Austrians can be disagreeable if deadlocked in a deal. There is sometimes a tendency to avoid confrontation to the extent of promising rather more than they can deliver.

Short-term thinking is a Viennese trademark, and it will often be necessary to remind your Austrian counterpart of their obligations (at which point they will do their best to meet the terms of the agreement).

Business is conducted slowly in Austria. You will have to be patient and not appear ruffled by the strict adherence to protocol. Austrians are very detail- oriented and want to understand every innuendo before coming to an agreement. Be prepared with a clear strategy and offer. If possible, have literature on the company, product and business offer available in German. Decisions are made at the top of the company and in private, therefore, high-level contacts are more effective. Since most companies are relatively small, it is often quite easy to meet with the decision- maker and negotiate with them directly.

Meeting protocol

Most Austrians greet one another formally, by shaking hands and saying, “Grüß Gott” (greet God) or “Grüß Dich” (informal greeting). Upon leaving, they shake again and say “Auf Wiedersehen” (good-bye). It is important to maintain eye contact during the greeting. Be sure to shake hands with everyone present – men, women and children – at  business or social meetings. Shake hands with women before men and be aware that in Austria women should offer their hand first.

Older Viennese men may kiss the hand of a lady on introduction, or say “Küß die Han” (I kiss your hand) and click their heels together. Accept this tradition graciously. A foreign man should not kiss the hand of an Austrian woman, since it is not expected and may come as a shock.

When greeting an Austrian verbally, use a person’s title and their surname until invited to use their first name. Appropriate forms of address include Herr (Mr.) for a man, Frau (Mrs.) for a woman or young girl. When addressing a professional under business or other formal circumstances, it is appropriate to use the proper honorific plus the professional designation. In more casual situations where the last name is unknown, titles alone (Herr and Frau) can be used.

When meeting a business contact for the first time exchange business cards – these should be bilingual in English and German. Not all Austrians speak English and even if they do they might be not comfortable using it. Even if you don’t know very much German most Austrians will appreciate you learning their language.

Although sincere smiles are welcomed, and people tend to be polite and hospitable to one another, physical and emotional expression may be kept to a minimum upon initial introductions. Light conversation however usually precedes business.

For further information, please see below:

How to Run a Business Meeting

The efficient administering of a meeting is vital to negotiations with Austrian counterparts. It illustrates your competence, motivation and dedication to making a deal and also highlights your professionalism. The following are points to consider when running a meeting in Austria:

  • The primary purpose of a first meeting is to get to know one another and to evaluate the person, to gain trust, and check if there is likely to be rapport.
  • Make appointments well in advance with prospective clients, either in writing or by phone.
  • Avoid waiting until the last minute to arrange business meetings.
  • Do not procrastinate on correspondence with others.
  • Do not assume other parties have been invited to attend. It is your prerogative to make that sure.
  • Send company profiles, personal profiles, etc., to Austrian colleagues before your visit to establish credibility.
  • Show understanding for the Austrian way of doing things.
  • Use titles and show respect when corresponding or speaking to co-workers and authoritative figures.
  • Arrive at meetings well prepared. Avoid hard-sell tactics or surprises.
  • Austrians generally discuss business after a few minutes of small talk.
  • Meetings adhere to strict agendas, including start and end times. If you have an agenda, it will be followed.
  • Presentations should be accurate and precise.
  • Have back-up material and be prepared to defend everything: Austrians are meticulous about details.
  • Write all documentation in German.
  • Maintain direct eye contact while speaking.
  • Austrians dislike hype and exaggeration. Be sure you can back up your claims with lots of data. Case studies and examples are highly regarded.
  • Austrians are not comfortable handling the unexpected. Plans are cautious with fall back positions, contingency plans, and comprehensive action steps – carried out to the letter.
  • Although English may be spoken, it is a good idea to hire an interpreter so as to avoid any misunderstandings.
  • Remain silent if the floor has not been given to you or if you are not prepared to make an informed contribution.

Follow up letter after meeting with client

Once a meeting has concluded with your Austrian counterparts, normal meeting procedures should apply.  You should follow-up with a letter outlining what was agreed, the next steps, and who is responsible for completing any actions. Expect a great deal of written communication in the weeks that follow, both to confirm decisions and to maintain a record of discussions and outcomes. Always prepare and distribute minutes, information etc. within 24 hours of the meeting.

Quick action on this reinforces the importance of meeting with the Austrians and also reduces errors of memory. Follow up on any delegated decisions. See that all members understand and carry out their responsibilities as effectively as possible. Place unfinished business on the agenda for the next meeting. A number of days after the meeting, your Austrian colleagues will appreciate a follow up phone call. The personal touch and effort is important in business practice in Austria.

A lot of Austrian businesses put their general business conditions, in German, on the back of orders, invoices etc. Under certain circumstances, those business conditions can become part of the agreement if not properly objected to. In such cases, the fact that the recipient was not even able to read those business conditions for lack of knowledge of the German language is no defence. It is therefore advisable to always object to the other side’s general business conditions.

As Austrian business people are very formal, socialising after meetings will not occur until firm working relationships have been established. While a degree of formality will continue to exist in the business relationship, an effort to build an understanding of their language and culture will improve relationships significantly.

Business meals

From the more expensive and upmarket restaurants to the sausage stands which can be found on every second street corner in Austria, eating out is a very pleasant experience in this country. Austrians appreciate good food and coffee houses and wine taverns are a popular alternative to restaurants. Local restaurants are called a “Gasthaus” and are in general cheaper than normal restaurants. Taking into account the ethnic diversity of the inhabitants of Austria, it is not surprising that you will find a wide range of restaurants: Japanese, Thai, Chinese, Greek, Spanish, Portuguese and much more. A tip of 10 to 15% is generally expected in every restaurant.

Attitudes to business meals

Business entertainment takes place mostly in restaurants. The Austrians enjoy linking gastronomic pleasure with interesting conversation about potential business. Restaurants in Austria provide an agreeable environment for discussing business and offer an opportunity to deepen social bonds. They represent a place where business can be conducted at a relaxed pace in which participants can feel at ease with each other and develop a more open level of communication. Actual business, however, is not supposed to be conducted during lunch or dinner. Sharing a meal is intended to help establish a personal acquaintance as a precursor to doing business.

Restaurant Etiquette

As with all countries, there is an etiquette you are expected to follow, when dining out in Austria. The following highlight the most important elements of restaurant etiquette:

  • Austrians insist on punctuality for social occasions.
  • They remain standing until invited to sit down and you may even be shown to a particular seat.
  • Do not begin eating until the host / hostess starts or someone says “Mahlzeit” or “guten Appetite” (have a nice meal).
  • Do not rest your elbows on the table.
  • Do not put your left hand in your lap when you eat.
  • Indicate you have finished eating by laying your knife and fork parallel on your plate with the handles facing to the right.
  • The most common toast with wine is “Zum Wohl”’ and with beer is “Prost” (good health).
  • The person who extends the invitation pays the bill in a restaurant. Austrians will not appreciate a struggle over the bill. Reciprocate with a lunch or dinner invitation before you leave the country.
  • In many places in Austria, including restaurants, there is a strict ban on smoking. Try to smoke only when the people around you are doing so.

It takes minimal effort to adhere to restaurant protocol which is important to observe when doing business in another country. Your attention to detail will not go unnoticed by your Austrian counterparts and will highlight your genuine willingness and enthusiasm to do business with them.

Austria is famous for its rich and varied cuisine, with a mix of German, Italian, Bohemian and Hungarian influences. In recent times, a new regional cuisine has developed which is centred on regional products and employs modern and easy methods of preparation.

Business Meeting tips

The following are some useful tips to remember when travelling to or working in Austria:

  • Austrians are not Germans. Austria and Germany have very different customs. Never refer to an Austrian as a German.
  • Lower your voice a little and behave graciously and you will enjoy a warm response from the people of Austria.
  • The Austrians value their privacy and personal space immensely. Do not ask personal questions related to occupation, salary, age, family or children even if you have a well-established friendship.
  • Austrians are more formal and punctual than most of the rest of the world. They have prescribed roles and seldom step out of line.
  • Traditional good manners call for the man to walk in front of a woman when walking into a public place. This is a symbol of protection and of the man leading the woman. A man should open the door for a woman and allow her to walk into the building. Do not be offended if someone corrects your behaviour (i.e. taking your jacket off in a restaurant, parking in the wrong spot, etc.). Policing each other is seen as a social duty.
  • Compliment carefully and sparingly – Austrians may find personal compliments embarrassing.
  • Do not lose your temper in public. This is viewed as uncouth and a sign of weakness.
  • Stand when an elder or higher ranked person enters the room.
  • Do not put your hands in your pockets while speaking to anyone.
  • Do not shout or be loud, put your feet on furniture or chew gum in public.
  • Traditionally, there has been little acceptance of women in high positions of responsibility and power in business. Women, especially foreign women, must establish their position and ability immediately in order to conduct business successfully in Austria.
  • Greet salespeople when entering and leaving a shop.
  • Tip 5-10% of the bill for waiters, taxi drivers etc.

Emergency phone numbers:

  • Police: 133
  • Fire: 122
  • Ambulance: 144

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