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Boardroom etiquette: how to do business in Turkey

The cultural differences you’ll experience in Turkey can make navigating social situations slightly challenging. But as well as the informal rules governing social gatherings, there are also a few differences when it comes to the business world. Read on to ensure you’re able to navigate the Turkish business world with ease.

Planning ahead

In a culture that seems informal and not too preoccupied with being on time, it might surprise you to know that Turks like to be prepared for meetings and events well in advance. Schedule meetings well in advance, and we recommend you brief your associates with details of who is attending, including titles, positions and responsibilities. You should also be prepared with the same details about your Turkish compatriots. It’s worth noting that you can use professional titles to address your Turkish associates, and it’s perfectly acceptable to just use the title and not the name.

Meeting and greeting

Lack of formality does not mean basic manners can go by the wayside. Remain courteous at all times. Offer handshakes when greeting or bidding farewell. When you greet your Turkish clients or colleagues start with the most senior colleague first and work your way to the most junior employee in the room. After everyone’s been introduced, your Turkish associates might offer their business cards. This is often a sign that they’re interested in doing business with you, and you should also present your cards. Maintain eye contact and smile while exchanging cards, and it’s considered polite to examine your associate's card after it’s presented to you to show you are serious about doing business with them.

Clockwise

You might find business culture isn’t as formal as back home. Which means the famous Turkish lack of punctuality often comes into play. You can expect delays of up to half an hour. However, the exception to this is a job interview: interviewees must turn up on time - even if the interviewer does not! As a foreigner you will also be expected to turn up on time.

Chitchat

Turkish people like to talk, and this is extended to meetings. Don’t get down to business right away - ask everyone how they are and shoot the breeze for a few minutes. Be patient - Turkish meetings take time and you’ll get down to business after the pleasantries are dispatched. You might find that nothing gets done in the initial meetings, it’s just a prelude to further meetings where decisions will be made. You might also discover that the initial meetings are not conducted with the company’s higher-ups. This is normal, and once you’ve been accepted you’ll start to meet more senior members of the business hierarchy who have the decision-making authority.

Presenting your ideas

Find out ahead of time whether the people you’ll meet will be able to speak English. If not, arrange an interpreter. Presentations should be short, clear and to the point. Visual presentations are the most effective: use clear graphics with brief text. Translate materials - especially those that get handed out to be read later - into Turkish so your message gets across.

Negotiating

Turks can be tough negotiators, so it’s crucial you leave some room to move while you’re negotiating. Stay calm during proceedings and expect delays. Be gracious when it comes to the bottom line: don’t let your associates think you’re not happy with the compromise you’ve agreed to. Once you’ve made an agreement prepare a written contract. This will be carefully followed by your Turkish associate. It’s recommended to have any contracts examined by a legal professional - but it’s not acceptable to bring your lawyer with you to the negotiations, this will be taken as a sign of distrust.

Working dinners

A lot of the time Turks prefer to conduct business over dinner in the evenings. Again, this all takes some time: mealtime conversation will be informal, covering general subjects (football often comes up - you might want to brush up on the recent fortunes of the local Turkish teams). Try and finish all the food on your plate, not doing so is frowned upon. Once the plates are cleared and the tea is served it’s time to get down to business. Make sure you accept at least one cup of tea or coffee, Turks consider these beverages a gesture of hospitality and refusing is impolite. Don’t get your wallet out at the end: your host will always pay the bill.

A bond of trust

Although it might seem casual to outsiders, the lack of formality has a purpose. Turks don’t want to partner up with someone purely for financial gain, they want to know what makes you tick before signing on the dotted line. Trust underpins all financial dealings, so the getting-to-know you informality that often takes outsiders by surprise is a way to gauge how trustworthy you are. You can help by emphasising your influence and reliability - and the security of the deal you’re about to make.

Dress sense

Turks dress formally for work. Men should don dark suits and jackets, while women should wear long skirts or business suits. A good rule of thumb: if you have to ask yourself if your outfit is too informal, it’s probably not suitable.

Muslim culture

Although Turkey is very western and business is conducted in a western way, there are a few religious issues to bear in mind. Check to see when other Muslim holidays fall when scheduling meetings, during Ramadan in particular, business hours can vary. It’s best not to schedule meetings during Ramadan if possible, or during July and August, as this period coincides with the holiday period. If you’re scheduling a business dinner, check beforehand whether your associates drink alcohol. While it might seem awkward asking in advance, it’s better than ordering a round of drinks for the table and dealing with the embarrassment of sending them back.

Patience is a virtue

Above all, you’ll need patience when doing business with Turks. The negotiation process will take longer than usual. Turks don’t like to be put under pressure and are averse to deadlines. Trying to hurry the process along will not help - and might just hinder your deal. Remember, the bottom line is not finance - it’s the building of a relationship that should hopefully be a lasting and prosperous one for each party.

If you'd like to read more about Turkish cultural etiquette, see our posts below:


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