China is a crazy, beautiful, frustrating, enlightening, contradictory,
wonderful place. But whether you are doing business in China or entertaining visitors from that part of the world, it is important to understand Chinese business etiquette so that you can save ‘face’ and the ‘face’ of others. Watch this instructional video for a good insight into the behaviours you should be aware of…

by Richard Cook

Why we need to become global networkers

When organisations ‘go global’ we often think of the formal networks that need to be stretched and expanded to accommodate the increase in communication that results. What we often fail to realise is that as individuals, we now need to network on a global scale as well, in order to maintain the effectiveness of our role. Having teams spread out across the globe, having key opinion leaders in remote offices means that our influencing skills can be severely tested as we try to continue applying them but now mostly virtually instead of face to face…

Why is it that serious attempts at sharing knowledge acrosscross-culture
cultures frequently end in frustration, disappointment and a sense of aggrievement on all sides?

The problem is that people from different cultures have fundamentally different beliefs about the proper roles of bosses and subordinates, teachers and students, and even about the nature of knowledge itself.

Keynote speaking at Gala Awards Banquest

Keynote speaking at International Gala Awards Banquet

The end of the year found me  doing a whirlwind lecture tour in
the Baltic States & Finland. I also undertook some interesting engagements here in the UK, culminating with being the keynote speaker at a Frost & Sullivan’s prestigious Excellence in Best Practices Award Gala Banquet. What interesting people I came to meet running some fascinating businesses. The occassion offered unparalled access to European Industy’s movers and shakers.  Needless to say Christmas arrived very quickly! 

Frost & Sullivan Excellence in Best Practice Awards:
The much anticipated and highly competitive Awards recognise companies in a variety of regional and global markets for demonstrating outstanding achievement and superior performance in areas such as leadership, technological innovation, customer service, and strategic product development. Industry analysts compare market participants and measure performance through in-depth interviews, analysis, and extensive secondary research in order to identify best practices in the industry.

F&S Gala Awards DinnerMy presentation “Developing Roots & Wings for your Company” explored how businesses can develop a culture of excellence that filters down from the leader to all members of staff. This builds individual self-confidence, self-esteem and self-belief that in turn enables each individual and the organization in turn to reach full potential. This talk covered the need and the ways in which an organisation can adapt for foreign markets to do business with greater knowledge, understanding and success.

HSBC’s Women In Business ConferenceDr Deborah Swallow
Held in Weybridge, UK, HSBC’s conference also featured Karen Darby
of uSwitch fame as a keynote speaker. Although it was our job to inspire the women who attended to reach their full potential, I certainly received my fair share of inspiration from the audience! One of the main topics being discussed was home-life balance to which I contribute my own story of how I ended up redefining what ‘success’ means to me and my observations that in a partnership with children, I believe, one of you has to put home and family first and the other has to put work first. And, I’m one who firmly believes that there is life after children!

Export Mentors ClubEstonia: Export Mentors Club
A welcome return to Tallinn saw my sixth visit to Estonia where I spoke to members of The Export Members Club on behalf of Tallinn City Enterprise Board. My talk was on the topic: ‘Playing to Win: how to raise your game in international markets’.


Estonia: Tallin University of  TechnologyTallin University
‘Communicating Across Cultures’ was my theme for the
lecture I gave to staff and students of the Tallin University of Technology. My thanks go to Professor Peeter I was humbled to find that we had standing room only for the event.


Deborah Swallow in Tampere UniverstiyFinland: Tampere University of Applied Sciences  
December found me visiting Finland – a place I love – and my first visit to Tampere. Although a little cold the first snows still had not really arrived. My presentation to staff and students was on: The Implications of Culture on Effective Knowledge Sharing in Multi-Cultural Groups. 


Latvia: Conference on High Performing Virtual Teams Tallin Univeristy 2
The pace was still high energy as I arrived in Latvia to
address a conference whose theme was on High Performing Virtual Teams. The topic for my breakout session was: ‘Knowledge Sharing in Global Teams’. This highlighted that people from different cultures have fundamentally different beliefs about the proper roles of bosses and subordinates, and even about the nature of knowledge itself. Therefore, transferring knowledge is not as straight forward as one thinks.

Deb-CokeLondon: 3 Day MBA
Back to London to deliver one of my ‘3 Day MBA’ courses. These are always enormously satisfying. There is always such a range of people – different industries, different nationalities, different challenges – but with one thing in common: a hunger to thrive in the global market place. Three days of wall-to-wall ideas and solution finding – we are all exhausted but invigorated at the end of the course.

Essex: Education Sector Lunch & LearnDebby at Blyth Eden Conference
Blyth Eden were the hosts of a special Lunch & Learn session for
educationalists in the Essex region where I was invited to address delegates on ‘How Different Cultures Teach and Learn’. This talk emphasised the differences in expectations about the roles of teachers, students and pupils across cultures, and highlighted the unexpected problems that arise from this.

PASSION for the PLANET Radio Interview
Finally, I got to say my piece on the radio, about the importance of respectful communication in a widely diverse community, when I was interviewed by Chantal Cooke. PASSION for the PLANET is a radio station that is dedicated to ethical living in a very broad approach.

“You can’t fix a problem in Iraq with an 8,000 mile-long screwdriver!” proclaimed Terence BrakeTerry Brake in his session on collaboration in virtual teams, at the Conference on High Performing Global Teams. I’d never met Terry before but am a fan of his work – and just like his books – his session was filled with insights and practical information. As he described, no longer do we have a simple ‘work place’ but agile ‘workwebs’ that are virtual and protean. And, a global virtual team consisting of  people distributed across time and space, whose task it is to collaborate, is a form of this. Terry’s session focused on his integrated set of virtual team perfomance indicators…

Bribery & Corruption: how things get done around the world.

cpi sml

Since 1995, Transparency Internationl have produced a comparision of 180 countries by their perceived levels of corruption. Denmark is seen to be the least and Somalia the most corrupt currently. Check out your country’s perceived level of corruption.

Ask yourself these questions about corruption:

  • What is it?
  • Can you find reasons to justify it?
  • Where do you think the money/gifts go?
  • Why could people from a ‘corrupt’ society be suspicious of you?

Difficult questions to answer as your answers depend on the culture you are accustomed to. The trouble is, what is considered corruption in one country is perfectly acceptable in another. Also, we tend to ‘judge’ other countries by our own experiences and norms. When working in the Middle East, I was amazed to learn that those who come from a culture where ‘oiling the wheels’ (bribery) is comon place look suspiciously on those that do not adhere to that practice. They find it difficult to understand the motivation behind someone whose purpose is to carry out their job well – because it’s their job.

Read about my experiences below and check out the Corruption Perception Index to see how corrupt your country is perceived to be in relation to the rest of the world.

  • Treat business card giving with more respect.
  • Your card is your ambassador; a cheap and nasty one says the same about you. A poorly designed and badly printed card will help to make you appear cheap and nasty too. Invest in decent cards.
  • If you don’t already, start to carry business cards everywhere you go.
  • Carry spare business cards in your bag, briefcase, and even in the glove compartment of your car.
  • Keep your cards in a particular pocket or the same place in your bag so that you can retrieve one without difficulty. Put all ‘incoming cards’ into a different pocket or a different place in your bag.
  • Consider putting your photo on your card – it helps people remember you when they flick through their card collection. Rather than a boring head and shoulders shot, use something that shows you being active or doing your job.
  • How about including on the back of your card, a brief summary of what results you or your company provides its customers? In other words, sell the benefit and emphasise the pain that you provide the solution to.
  • Add “We met at…” This allows you or the recipient of the card to add details of your meeting. This can help your contacts remember you more clearly.
  • If you perform a number of different job functions – have different cards. If you are self-employed, rather than including what you do – just use your name. Your card will have wider usage.
  • Perhaps include on the back too. “Please keep this card for reference or pass on to a colleague”.
  • If someone is particularly interesting when you meet them ask for two cards. 
  • Discard any out of date business cards and have new ones designed and printed.

Source: my thanks to Roy Shepard and his excellent book “Meet, Greet & Prosper”

Find more information about cross cultural differences in the exchange of business cards by clicking on the following links:

Top Ten Tips on passing business cards with cultural fluency

Japan: everything you need to know about business card ‘meishi’ etiquette

U.S.,  Britain, Australia: Business Card Etiquette

The art of business card giving: an East West perspective

My previous two blogs have focused on the etiquette bus cardsand rituals
surrounding (or not) the exchange of business cards in the Far East and in passing cards with cultural fluency. This blog focuses on How and when to offer your business card when you do business in the Anglo-Saxon countries.

It seems a really strange topic for someone in the UK to read/write about it because we almost don’t care and aren’t bothered – we just ‘toss’ them around and ’dish’ them out as and when required without much thought. It’s a very informal gesture – but – that informality has a MUCH deeper meaning…

xcflag1In the global commercial world you can’t survive without a business card. A business card is the thing that consolidates ‘who you are’, gives you a ‘proper’ identity and tells the world that you are ‘open for business’. However, people around the world project different meanings on the exchange of cards doing it, therefore, in different ways.

In some cultures, the exchange symbolises the beginning of a relationship. The most ritualistic and sensitive to the practice of business card exchange are the Asian countries (Japan and Korea in particular). Perhaps the least are the British/US/Australians where NO significance whatsoever is attached to the exchange – it’s merely a function of giving someone your details – a reminder.

If you want to ensure that you don’t offend, read the Top Ten Tips below and the special section on Japan and the other on US/Britain. Instructive and comical videos included:

For those in Asian countries, the exchanging of Jap bus card
business cards is symbolic; it symbolises the beginning of a relationship. In Japan, meishi koukan is so important they even have an etiquette for it. If travelling to that part of the world, ensure that you have a vast amount of cards with you (read below to understand why) as people formally present cards at the beginning of every first meeting. This is exceedingly important if you are on an extended business trip.

Read the tips below to understand what is involved with business card etiquette and then watch the selection of videos that I’ve come across online that teach the novice how to exchange a card. If the card exchange goes badly, well… not much hope for any successful business relationship in the future!