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When doing business in Russia, keep cultural differences in mind

February 1, 2018
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Why this is important to Wisconsin businesses: Wisconsin companies should not just assume their usual business customs will lead to the desired results.

Business cultures vary from country to country, and when seeking to do business in Russia, it is important to be aware of the particulars of Russian business culture.

Businesspeople in Russia put more emphasis on the spoken word than their American counterparts, who tend to handle communication in written form. Russian businesspeople prefer to hear things directly and from partners with whom they’ve established trust. Face-to-face meetings are considered more worthwhile than correspondence or phone calls because they enable partners to more fully examine and discuss issues. Russians also tend to show less body language than Americans, and this is especially true in negotiations. This may be confusing for Americans, who tend to put a lot of stock in body language.

Russian corporate hierarchy is quite different than in the U.S., and is often stricter and more precise. Most decision-making in Russian companies is made at the highest level, by a single leader who delegates tasks to staff. In contrast to U.S. corporate culture, subordinates in Russia are not often consulted, and they are expected to follow directions with little or no discussion. Meanwhile, in the U.S. even lower-ranking employees encouraged to question management decisions, voice opinions and offer solutions.

Written agreements are at a premium in the U.S., but much less so in Russia, where personal relationships and a sense of honor take precedence. The Russian businessperson operates with just a handshake most of the time, with very few papers signed. If you manage to ink a deal, do not expect it to take effect without a continuing good relationship with your Russian partner.

In the not-so-distant past, Western businesswomen in Russia might have often found themselves at a disadvantage, treated politely but viewed as inferior to their male counterparts, regardless of their position. During meetings, they might have found it hard to get their opinions across, with preference usually given to male counterparts. This trend, however, is declining, and women coming closer to equal status, with each passing year.

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