Cultural Tips for Doing Business in Australia

Waterfront and central business district, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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When you think of Australia, you probably think of the kangaroos, BBQ, beaches, and happy people with funny accents. But there's a lot more happening in Australia than that. More and more business travelers are heading to Australia for business trips. And even though on the surface, Australia seems pretty similar to the United States or Britain, there are cultural differences that are important for business travelers to pay attention to.

To help business travelers avoid cultural problems when traveling to Australia, we 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 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.

For more information on Ms. Cotton, please visit her website. Ms. Cotton was happy to share tips with our readers to help business travelers avoid potential cultural problems when traveling to Australia.

Beautiful view of Sydney, Australia
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What Tips Do You Have for Business Travelers Heading to Australia?

  • Australians tend to be enthusiastic conversationalists and debaters. A wide range of topics may be open to discussion.
  • Australians take punctuality seriously. If possible, arrive ten to fifteen minutes early for a business meeting.
  • Australians try not to draw too much attention to their academic qualifications, at least in public. People who make a lot of references to their education and other professional qualifications in conversation may be subject to teasing.
  • Don't boast about yourself or your company's accomplishments. Instead, Australians will judge your competence and abilities through your actions.
  • Australians find strong discussions and opinionated conversation entertaining, so don't hesitate to express your views if they are sincere and informed.
  • Australians may like to poke fun at or criticize themselves, but they are not as receptive to criticism from others.
  • Australians may be difficult to impress, and even if you do manage to impress them, they may not openly admit it.
  • Cynicism is part of the national character. It may be directed at people who seem too wealthy or powerful. In this culture, there is greater respect for the "underdog."
  • Australians generally dislike aggressive sales techniques. Since they value directness, presentations of any kind should be straightforward, with an emphasis on both the positive and negative outcomes.
  • Australian hospitality tends to be somewhat informal, particularly when you are invited to a home. Barbecues, affectionately known as "barbies," are a prevalent form of entertaining.

What Is Important to Know About the Decision Making the Process?

  • The work environment in the Australian business culture tends to be collaborative. Before a decision is made, top management will consult subordinates, and their input will be given careful consideration. Consequently, decision-making will be slower, so don’t rush this process.

Any Tips for Women?

  • Women are actively involved in all areas of the Australian business. However, there are less in the senior executive levels.

Any Tips on Gestures?

  • Point with your entire hand because pointing at someone with your index finger may be considered impolite.

What Are Some Good Suggestions for Topics of Conversation?

  • Unlike some countries, Australians are open to discuss religion, politics, and even the Australian government.
  • Australian traditions and sports are always great topics.
  • Discuss something about the area of Australia you’re visiting. Australians are very proud of their country. Know the landmarks.
  • Your international travels to other countries is always of interest
  • The beauty of the cities, local sites, gardens, coastlines (the Gold Coast is famous), and the Outback if you get a chance to visit.
  • Australia has excellent food, restaurants, beer, and wine!
  • Australian culture in general, including their theater, movies, and opera.
  • Compliments are welcome!

What Are Some Topics of Conversation to Avoid?

  • Do not criticize or joke about Australia, its culture and traditions, or other Australians, even if your Australian companions are doing so.
  • Ethnic relations as it relates to the history of the Aborigines
  • Talking too much about your education, professional experience, business success, and related achievements may be considered boosting.
  • Australians are often distrustful of authority and of people who think that they are somehow "better" than others. Remain modest in conversation.
  • If you are invited out for a drink, don't bring up the subject of business unless your host does so.
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