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Business negotiations with Western Europeans Business negotiations with Western Europeans
by Joseph Gatt
2019-07-23 08:07:39
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Each nation and each individual have their own specificities. Sweeping generalizations about doing business in Western Europe, in no particular order.

-Language: Any knowledge of a European language can play to your advantage. English works, in some cases French, Spanish or Italian work better, some places like to use German. That is you could be in Italy and doing business in German with an Italian, or could be in Portugal and negotiating deals in Italian. Note that some Europeans will speak 5 or 6 languages, and English won't be one of them.

eur01_400_01-Greetings: most Western European countries have specificities when it comes to greetings, but the spirit tends to be the same. Greet everyone in the room, give everyone your business card, don't draw all the attention on your presence, and wait for someone to suggest what you should do next.

-Meetings: most Western European nations prefer formal meetings over informal dinners or lunches. Meetings tend to be semi-structured and can last many, many hours. Note that in all Western European countries the bureaucracy can be crushing, and there are rules for everything. Send your best legal minds to do business in Europe, and make sure they understand what the rules are.

-Business lunch and dinner. The further North you go, the more likely they will discuss business during lunches and dinners. The further South you go, the more likely business will barely be touched upon during lunch and dinner. In any case, keep up with the news. Europeans spend a great deal of their business lunch and dinner discussing the news.

-Europe is not North America when it comes to luxury products. Many Europeans, especially men, are rather indifferent when it comes to luxury products. In some cases, driving an expensive car or wearing expensive jewelry can be viewed as a sign of lack of modesty.

-The further North you go, the more you will be expected to have few certainties, and to put everything in the conditional tense. In Northern Europe and the UK, you want to use “I think” and “maybe” a lot. In Southern Europe however, you are expected to have lots of certainties, and to be precise when it comes to recollecting facts. In Southern Europe, lack of precision can lead deals to blow up.

-Europeans tend to have complex hierarchies and organizational structures, which can lead to a lot of delays in the negotiations. It's always like “someone's on a business trip” or “someone's on vacation” or “someone's working on another project and we'll get back to you” or “someone quit and we're waiting for his or her replacement” or “someone's on paternity leave and we're going to wait for him to come back to resume the deal.” Or “they are on strike” so you'll have to wait.

-Note that Europeans tend to be inflexible with the rules and with the products. If it's a 9 centimeter mug, don't try to negotiate 12 centimeter mug. If it's 12.5% tax, don't try to round up the numbers so you can both gain advantage from the 12.5% tax. And if it's a 40 day delivery, don't try to push for 30 days. You can go ahead and try, but a lot of times you'll be hitting a wall.

-It's going to be very hard to be “friends” with your European business partners. You can do business with them for 20 years, and they'll still frame the relationship as a business relationship.

-Finally, Europeans tend to discuss “the company” and rarely discuss “themselves.” So don't discuss your personal life or your life within your company, and if you're getting a good deal, it's good for your company, not for yourself. Also, expect Europeans to focus almost exclusively on the deal. They will rarely discuss their company, office politics, history of their company, other range of products, other activities or anything else. If your European partner complains about the work environment they are working in, that's usually a hint they're trying to throw at you to back off the deal.

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