Whilst I was working in Germany, I was sent on an important project to Yemen. It was my first time on business in the Middle East and my task was to represent the Structured Finance division at our client´s office.
My sales team was composed of Lebanese men and the banks we were working with had a British and Omani representative. All of them were men, including my Australian lawyer.
The first little faux pas I made, having been used to my Middle Eastern colleagues shaking hands with me was to go forward to shake hands with our client. No need to say that the reaction of the client was to back away from me; he slightly bowed and put his hand on his heart. I understood that i made a faux pas! That was ok said my sales counterpart, not to worry, he is used to it! If I could have avoided it, I would have preferred though!
Then we went into the meetings, all questions were addressed to my lawyer and my sales people, to which i had to provide an answer. It was quite interesting as I was not questioned directly! I thought it was probably because I was a woman. I did not make any assumptions, I just followed the flow and everything went well!
When we do business with cultures we do not know much about, it is always wise to look at what is happening around us, how do people interact, talk to one another, what kind of question do they ask, do they need clarifications, where do I stand as a woman for example. This will reduce the risk of faux pas and mistakes and ensure good relationships with your counterpart.