Business Etiquette Need Not Be A Barrier

June 5, 2002
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — Ever confused whether you should shake hands, or bow, or perhaps kiss on both cheeks when greeting an international business counterpart?

Well, those days of worry are over, thanks to the Van Andel Global Trade Center. The Trade Center is offering classes and programs to business professionals to help with the other side of business that can sometimes be the make or break point in a business deal: etiquette.

“Business etiquette is crucial to foreign business relations and can often make or break a deal,” said Birgit Klohs, president of The Right Place Program. “Sometimes before there is even a deal on the table you will have already ruined the transaction because of a gesture or phrase that is interpreted in a different way in a different country.”

Klohs feels that the U.S. needs to be sensitive to the competition and also understand that there are certain customs and relations involved in business, beyond the business deal.

“We are a very large nation and we should keep up to date and current on international business practices just as other countries do for us,” she added.

The programs offered by the Trade Center are often customized for each business and can include a variety of topics.

“We need to first learn where they are going, specifically what parts of the country they are going to, what types of groups are they going to be working with,” said Jeff Meyer, executive director of the Van Andel Global Trade Center.

“Then we prepare something especially for them to prepare them for the food, travel, business dealings, language, etiquette, negotiations, technical aspects such as paper work and entry as well as safety.”

Safety is another aspect of instruction the Trade Center feels is important. Meyer said businesses need to keep many aspects of safety in mind to protect their staffers during an overseas stay.

The Trade Center is offering a seminar May 31, a half-day program on corporate security and how to keep the company safe overseas. “It is a program to help all people, all businesses specifically, that are sending their people overseas," Meyer said.  "How do we keep them safe? How do you prepare? How do you act when you’re in a country? What do you look out for?”

The program is open to the public for a fee and will be held at the Trade Center.

In order to perform all the training, the Trade Center provides technical and native experts on the subjects being taught.

Meyer said the Center brings in native language speakers from the country and/or region in question. Likewise, it furnishes a great deal of cultural information that it supplements through the help of experts.

Businesses and professionals in the entire West Michigan area are encouraged to call the Trade Center to set up a program to train staff members traveling overseas in the future.

“We also offer off-the-shelf programs if businesses are looking for something basic,” said Meyer.

He explained that off-the-shelf programs cover all the basics but in a simple way, not tailored to any particular business. However, the Trade Center is able to provide supplemental information concerning most countries in the world.

With World Trade Week having just ended and international business becoming a widely discussed topic, the Trade Center has jumped beyond the topics not always covered in International Relations 101.

“We are trying to provide a comprehensive program full of very useful and necessary information,” said Meyer.

“Through this we hope it strengthens relations between West Michigan companies and their international counterparts.”

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