Traveling to Russia for business means being a newcomer to an office where everyone except you knows how to communicate with each other and the senior management. Aside from being governed by some unique social codes and habits, Russian offices also have some special rules for communication among employees. If you are going to be traveling to Russia for business, it’s best to familiarize yourself with these simple rules before you go to avoid confusion. Of course, it’s always best to know some basic Russian as well, but these rules will help you to avoid major faux pas:
When you address somebody in Russia, you use the formal version of address until you have been instructed otherwise. This includes calling people by their names — whereas in most Western offices everyone is immediately on a first-name basis, in Russia it is customary to address everyone by their full name until told that it is acceptable to switch to first names only. The Russian full name is structured as follows: First Name + Paternal “Middle” Name + Last Name. When addressing someone formally, you only use the first two. So for example, if my name is Alexander Romanovich Blake, you should address me as “Alexander Romanovich” until I say that it’s OK for you to call me “Alex”. The same will then go for you; people will try to address you by your full name — as such, it’s probably easiest if you let everyone know right away that they can call you by just your first name (this is polite unless you are a senior manager speaking to your employees).
As a general rule, do not do business over the phone in Russia. Russians are unaccustomed to this and it will generally be awkward and unproductive. They rely heavily on body language in business and negotiations so you will actually lower your chances of success by choosing to conduct business over the phone rather than in person.
Get Everything in Writing
Russians are unpredictable and impulsive and generally do not take spoken agreements seriously. Therefore nothing is for certain in Russia until you have it in writing. Don’t believe anyone who tries to convince you otherwise. Naturally this is advantageous for those doing business with you to be able to change their minds and go back on their word at any moment, but if you demand to have concrete agreements in writing, not only will they not mind, but they will see that you are a shrewd business person who knows what they are doing. It may even earn you more respect.
Always Make an Appointment
Similarly to the previous point, any meeting not agreed upon in writing is not a set meeting. It’s also uncommon for Russian business people to simply walk into each others’ offices — it’s considered impolite. As such, make sure to set an appointment every time you wish to have a discussion with someone in a Russian office. Once you do make an appointment, be on time! Even though the person you are meeting with might be late, it is unacceptable for the newcomer to be late to a meeting.
Always Have Business Cards
Business cards are essential in Russian business relations and communication, and they are exchanged by everyone, everywhere. Always carry business cards with you. It may be helpful to get them translated into Russian and have one side in Cyrillic and the other in English. Also, be aware that in Russia it’s customary to put any university degrees (particularly those above a Bachelor’s level) on one’s business cards.