South Africa is a complex and multifaceted nation, so when doing business or participating in conferences, it is always wise to read up on cultural best practices.
When doing business in a foreign country, it is always wise to be prepared. This may, however, apply even more when participating in meetings or conferences in South Africa. As this exciting country consist of many people, languages and cultures, there is no definite answer on how to interact with South Africans in a business environment, as every situation is different. There is also a big difference between rural and urban environments. In general, you could say that the more rural the area, the more outgoing yet conservative their business approach is. Whereas in the cities business can be more flexible, but often more financially linked, focused on targets, goals and wealth. Here are some handy business tips:
Meeting for the first time
When doing business in a multi cultural city you might be in doubt on how to greet for the first time. As default South Africans shake hands when dealing with visitors. Some women may not shake hands and prefer to nod their head instead. Then you can simply just nod back with a smile.
Sharing for business cards
If you receive a business card it might be that you don’t even glance at it, you just put it in your pocket and that’s that. In South Africa, exchanging business cards is normal practice, but be sure to treat the card with respect. This means that you should store it away properly rather than putting it in your pocket. It can also be a nice gesture to make a small positive comment on the card.
Way of communication
This is not just a best practice when visiting South Africa, but would apply anywhere else too. When first meeting and establishing a relationship, tact and diplomacy work best. You can then review the communication style as the meeting progresses. The communication style of course is very much dependent on the level of your business relationship. It means that the closer you get, the more comfortable you may feel to speak your mind. In general, South Africans are known to be pretty direct communicators. They do however adjust to the situation, and are aware of what is being said, how and to whom.
If not prepared you can often be surprised on how close and up front people can be in other cultures. You don’t need to worry about this in South Africa though. They are known to follow the more typical European approach to personal space, as opposed to the Latin or Arab cultures, where touching is more common and relaxed.
Appreciate a good chat
Don’t be afraid to start a conversation, especially on topics like sports, food, South African wines and international travel. What is not recommended is to compare the nation’s cities, as South Africans like many others, are very proud of their own cities. It is generally not a good idea to debate local politics or race issues either.
Meetings and conferences
When setting up a meeting, be aware that it is often difficult to schedule meetings from mid-December to mid-January, or the two weeks around Easter, as these are national vacation times in South Africa.
General advice for any meeting is to send an agenda beforehand, and of course be prepared when doing business in South Africa. When holding a presentation yourself, the more precise you can be the better.
Make sure you support your suggestions with charts, statistics, case studies and graphs. Decisions are most often made from solid facts and figures rather than intuition or gut feeling. Be aware that agendas are not seen as rigid, since people will digress and come back to issues in a circular fashion.
As there is great diversity in the people and culture, the best advice is to try to find out more about the tone of voice and best practice in existing communication. You can read behind the lines in emails or make up your mind though phone calls before you meet. Also, remember that a smile is the universal sign for good intentions.
When in Cape Town for business, the Sea Point Radisson Blu Le Vendome Hotel Cape Town, near the city center, is ideal with state-of-the-art meeting and function rooms and full business facilities.
What is your best tips for doing business in South Africa?