Business relationships and negotiation—South Africa

Business relationships & negotiation—South Africa

South Africa is a very diverse country with a difficult history and a variety of nationalities. There is an array of cultures, all with different traditions and customs. Over eleven official languages are found here, including Afrikaans, Ndebele, Pedi, Shangaan, Sotho, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, and Zulu. The business language, however, is English.

Overall, South Africans are Western in culture and outlook. It is a fairly Masculine country on the Hofstede scale. South Africans value personal achievement and competitiveness; they are goal-oriented and individualistic and see time as a Linear concept. A close relative in their dominant communication style is the United States. In negotiations, South Africans are direct and say what they mean. Body language is a useful interaction tool, but in general, nonverbal cues are not important in conversation.

There are no complicated rituals or procedures for meeting and greeting. Handshakes are the most common way to greet someone. Business cards are usually exchanged at the first meeting. There are no formal rituals for exchange but it is still a good idea to have your card printed in both English and Afrikaans.

South Africans are transactional and do not require a personal connection before making decisions. Recognize that business relationships should be limited to business. Loyalty and trust will be based on facts and figures. Present yourself in a clear, direct manner. Information is judged based on logic and relevance.

It is normal for meetings to be held over dinner or lunch, with good-quality food. A barbecue with roasted meat is a typical meal. Dress according to the event, but limit your wardrobe selection to business-formal attire. Tropical wool suits are an excellent choice for the winter months, while high-quality cotton suits and jackets in the summer will keep you cool and dry. Avoid any type of South African non-Western ethnic clothing, because it only appropriate for people of the ethnic group in question.

Gift giving is not appropriate between colleagues and can be misinterpreted as bribery. If receiving a gift, use both hands and open upon receipt.

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