Manners Maketh Man: Understanding International Etiquette

21. 03. 18 John Chapman

‘The proverb ‘manners maketh man’ means that politeness and good manners are essential to humanity. Manners means being polite and cultured. Maketh here means to complete, perfect, or create. Man refers not just to men but to all humankind. So, the proverb is extolling the virtues of good manners.

In business there are codes and norms that we follow. Our parents will have been role models and as children we watched and learnt from them, typically based on a single cultural identity.

In today’s workplace, project delivery is likely to include individuals from different countries and cultures. We need to be mindful of these. International travel with meetings across the globe will expose us to new values. Let us take one example, punctuality. In the UK, according to Debretts,

"Failing to be punctual is the height of bad manners because it disregards the value of other people’s time. By being late you are effectively forcing the people you are meeting to waste their time; hanging around waiting for someone is deeply frustrating. By being late, you will always arrive at your rendezvous on the wrong foot; flustered, apologetic, disadvantaged. Conversely, being punctual always scores bonus points. You will come across as someone who cares about other people, and is efficient, organised and reliable."

We cannot assume that this remains consistent across the world. Consider these five countries.

  • Brazil: The lack of punctuality is a fact of life in Brazil. Become accustomed to waiting for your Brazilian counterpart.
  • Chile: do not be offended if your counterpart is up to thirty minutes late
  • Egypt: Punctuality is not a traditional virtue in Egypt. Your client may be late for an appointment or not show up at all… It is standard Arab practice to keep supplicants (including foreign business people) waiting. Until you know your clients it is unwise to schedule more than one appointment per day.
  • Spain: Whilst you should be on time for business appointments, Spaniards are not always punctual. Be prepared to wait and never take offence at your Spanish associates’ late arrival.
  • Saudi Arabia: Punctuality is not considered a virtue in Saudi Arabia. Your client may be late for an appointment or not show up at all. However you should endeavour to be prompt.

The implications

Whilst knowing these norms might be intellectually interesting, we need to assess the implications and impact these could have for everyday interactions and interactions within a professional (or specifically project delivery) environment.

1. Personal Motivation

It can be frustrating when people are late for a meeting or do not turn up. Instead of becoming angry and irritated we take it in our stride, remembering that the start time is merely an indicator and not an absolute.

2. Project delivery

The meeting may be for a design workshop, a review of a document, or a key decision point. When there is non-attendance, this will impact on the project timelines. Key people tend to have very full diaries. A missed appointment may mean a delay of 3 or more weeks when the same group have availability to get together again.

The early project planning has to take this into account. Our experience with international projects is that they can take two to three times as long (in elapsed time) as one on a single site in London. Instead of reporting back missed deadlines, the baseline planning takes into account the likelihood that there will be delays. We save face as project professionals. The project board do not receive bad news.

3. Project costs

The senior consultant has arrived for the meeting to discuss key aspects of the overall design. Waiting patiently to meet the aforementioned individual. They do not arrive and the day is lost. This will increase the project costs. The time needs to be booked again. Another flight and hotel accommodation required. As with the project time-line, provision should be made for this in the initial delivery.

Conclusion

When working with or in other countries and cultures, be aware of local customs and etiquette. Consider how these could impact your project timeline and the likelihood of a successful project delivery.

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John Chapman

Written by:

John Chapman

Programme Director

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