Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Last May, at Staff Training in Lake Placid, we had some special visitors from the province of Zhejiang, China at Staff Training this year. Mary Hoffman send out an e-mail to alert staff about the sensitivities of hosting international dignitaries, a message that may have future applicability:

The following notes are excerpts from several sources regarding protocol for interactions with visitors from other countries.

The cardinal rule that should guide your thoughts as you plan to receive international guests or travel abroad is: "When in doubt, err on the side of excess." One doesn't have to apologize for being too kind and respectful - but one cannot recover from an affront and disrespect. Often what Americans might view as appropriate would be seen as minimal in many other cultures. As members of the global community, a sensitivity and understanding of cross-cultural protocol is vitally important.

It is very important to ensure that neither your actions, nor your appearance nor your posture could possibly be interpreted as in any way lacking in respect.
Complete attention should always be paid to the person with whom you are dealing. Avoid yawning, stretching or anything that might suggest distraction, boredom or disrespect. Do not slouch or stand with hands in pockets, hands on hips or arms folded. Do not look around to see whether there are other people with whom you wish to make contact. If, after first encounter, conversation is continued while seated, sit up straight: and keep both feet on the ground.

A handshake, coupled with a smile, is generally the best form of greeting, introduction and farewell. It is not likely to be taken amiss even if not common in a particular culture. However

  • it should not be too hearty or prolonged
  • an older man should be the first to offer his hand to a younger man
  • any man should wait for a woman to offer her hand.

    Other forms of bodily contact - particularly backslapping or hugging - should not be initiated.

    It's important to introduce visitors to all with whom they come in contact. Degrees and titles carry more prestige in other cultures than they do in the U.S. American modesty should be replaced with formality; titles should be included in the introduction. Handshakes are generally exchanged more frequently in other cultures usually upon greeting and leave-taking. Exchange of business cards is usually expected.

    In addition, especially while one of our visitors is at the podium during the sessions:
  • Do not walk around the room while delegation members are speaking.
  • Please have cell phones turned off or silenced.
  • Be quiet, attentive and respectful.

    If you have any questions, consult our expert on international activities, Jinshui Zhang.
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