Building successful business relationships—Russia
Traditionally, Russia has been a country in which status and rank are of great importance. This has not changed and was only strengthened during the Soviet period. Today, the country is transitioning to a free-market economy and democracy; however, there is some prejudice about common Western business tactics. Russians tend to be suspicious of public praise, open displays of achievement, and compromise. Although business is no longer controlled by the state, there is a deep hierarchy that still exists. Getting to know your Russian colleagues personally can help you ease into this environment. It requires sincerity, an essential element of building trust, and a key to building a relationship. Russians shy away from doing business with people they do not trust, and this is why establishing a solid connection is vital. If you are from the West, it is possible that your colleagues will assume you are very experienced and thus will have high expectations. To ensure that you are found credible, make an effort to present yourself as dignified and confident while still maintaining an air of friendliness and approachability.
A common greeting is a very firm handshake. Be sure to learn all of the appropriate titles, as they are very important in Russian culture. Most often individuals introduce themselves using only their last name. The term tovarishch, meaning “comrade,” is a Soviet term that is outdated and no longer appropriate. There is no commonly used equivalent of “Mr.” or “Mrs.” Only very close friends may address each other by their first names; typically, only the first and middle names are used. Russians have three names; the first name is given at birth, the middle name or patronymic is the first name of the father conjugated as either male or female, and the family last name also conjugated to gender. If you are not familiar with your colleagues, it is best to remain as formal as possible at first meeting. Use the first name and patronymic to be safe.
Learning a few phrases in Russian can be very helpful. Say zdravstvuite, “z-drav-st-vui-teh,” when shaking hands in place of “hello.” It literally means “I wish you health,” and is formal enough to use to greet someone you do not know. This will indicate that you are interested in the culture. However, be cautious not to use too much Russian, as it can be misinterpreted to mean that the English knowledge of the person to whom you are speaking is not sufficient. Present all of your materials in both English and Russian, including all business cards and presentation handouts. When giving out your card, make sure the Russian-language side is face up.
During negotiations, it is important to identify the key decision makers. Oftentimes, gatekeepers and third parties are sent to greet guests, while the ultimate deal can only be approved by senior executives. It is important to distinguish between ranks in order to advance in your affairs.
In Russia, one of the most important virtues in business is patience. Everything takes time and careful planning; Russians do not like to rush. Meetings are lengthy and are often interrupted by side conversations and phone calls. Punctuality is not expected; however, it is a good idea to be on time as a foreigner. Your counterpart will most likely be 15 to 30 minutes late and this time increases with rank. Try not to express displeasure if your partner is late, as this may have only been a test of your patience to be sure you are serious. Russians will commonly test your character before beginning any deal. Do not be surprised if your colleagues are overly emotional and tempered. Consider this an integral part of the negotiation process. Overall, compromise is considered a sign of weakness. Remain firm in your position and clearly outline the mutual benefits in your proposal.
To truly be successful in Russia, making a personal connection with your partner is essential. This is a delicate process and your character will be judged by factors above and beyond your professional competency. The most useful and highly praised personality traits to display are patience, confidence, dependability, trustworthiness, credibility, cultural and intellectual knowledge, and the ability to interpret nonverbal cues. In general, try to make a positive overall impression and you will have an excellent and rewarding experience.