As an American with some Irish heritage, I would love the opportunity to travel there for business. Unfortunately, I haven't had that chance so far. But I know that plenty of business travelers do head to Ireland.
To help business travelers avoid cultural problems when traveling to Ireland, I interviewed cultural expert Gayle Cotton. Ms.Cotton is the author of the bestselling book, Say Anything to Anyone, Anywhere: 5 Keys To Successful Cross-Cultural Communication. Ms. Cotton is also a distinguished keynote speaker and an internationally-recognized authority on cross-cultural communication. She's President of Circles Of Excellence Inc. Ms. Cotton has been featured on many television programs, including: NBC News, PBS, Good Morning America, PM Magazine, PM Northwest, and Pacific Report.
Ms. Cotton was happy to share a variety of tips with About.com readers to help business travelers avoid potential cultural problems when traveling to Ireland.
What tips do you have for business travelers heading to Ireland?
- The Irish often have more of a relaxed attitude toward time. As a business traveler, however, you should always strive to be punctual for your appointments.
- When meeting the Irish, the proper greeting is to shake hands and extend a warm greeting as you maintain eye contact. Handshakes should also be exchanged upon departure.
- The Irish tend to value their personal space and will expect the same of you. If you speak in an animated manner, tone down your hand gestures.
- Stand straight and sit with your feet situated flat on the floor. If men or women cross their legs, it shouldn’t be ankle over knee. It is preferable to cross ankle over ankle.
- In a conversation between the Irish and visitors to the country, all participants are expected to maintain a low, moderate, tone of voice. Among friends, family, and perhaps closer acquaintances, it’s permissible for the volume and display of emotions to become more pronounced.
- The Irish are resolute about their independence from English rule. Consequently, in conversation, refrain from putting Irish culture in the same category as English culture. These kinds of generalizations can jeopardize the business relationship you have worked so hard to establish.
- Avoid using the North American expression, “Have a nice day”. It will come across as sounding questionable.
- In larger organizations, the boss is distinguished from others as the key decision-maker and authority figure. Subordinates usually do as they are told and may not express opinions or ideas.
- The Irish tend to value a conservative demeanor, yet have an admiration for eccentrics, rebels, and artists.
- If you place a high priority on having a tightly focused meeting, you will have to make some allowances. Generally speaking, the Irish don’t place much emphasis on closely following an agenda.
- The Irish are far more animated speakers than the English. They can sometimes be described as prone to the legendary pastime of “blarney”, or embellishing the truth.
- The Irish tend to be very “down-to-earth”, so ensure that any information you give is sensible and realistic.
- The Irish tend to be polite, attentive listeners and will restrain themselves from interrupting, so do the same.
What is important to know about the decision making process?
- Don’t put pressure on the decision-making process. Efforts of any kind to obtain direct information or force a faster decision will only damage your relationship.
Any tips for women?
- Fewer women are a part of the higher ranks in Irish business culture, although they are slowly making progress.
Any tips on gestures?
- Pointing is accomplished by using the head or chin, rather than the fingers. Touching one’s nose is a sign of confidentiality. Use the index finger to indicate the number one, and the thumb for number five.
- The peace sign or “V” made by extending the index and middle finger with the palm facing out, is an obscene gesture in Ireland and should be avoided.
- Keep your hands out of your pockets, particularly when speaking.
What are some good suggestions for topics of conversation?
- Irish writers such as Swift, Yeats, Joyce, Shaw, O’Casey, and Beckett have made great literary contributions. Knowledge and appreciation of Irish literature will ingratiate you with your Irish companions.
- Your travels in Ireland
- The Gaelic culture
- Sports, especially Irish sports and football (Soccer)
- Food, drink and fun!
What are some topics of conversation to avoid?
- Avoid discussing Irish politics
- Religion and religious differences in Ireland
- Comparing the lives of the native Irish with Irish-Americans
- Sex and roles of the sexes
- Any controversial social issue in Ireland