In the global commercial world you cant survive without a business card. A business card is the thing that consolidates who you are, gives you a proper identity and tells the world that you are open for business. However, people around the world project different meanings on the exchange of cards doing it, therefore, in different ways.
In some cultures, the exchange symbolises the beginning of a relationship. The most ritualistic and sensitive to the practice of business card exchange are the Asian countries (Japan and Korea in particular). Perhaps the least are the British/US/Australians where NO significance whatsoever is attached to the exchange its merely a function of giving someone your details a reminder.
If you want to ensure that you dont offend, read the Top Ten Tips below and the special section on Japan and the other on US/Britain. Instructive and comical videos included:
1.Exchanging business cards should ALWAYS be done with respect and decorum, whatever country you are in. It is so easy to make a cultural gaffe. Asian countries attach a lot of importance to a formal exchange, the Brits/Australians do it very informally like an after thought South Africans have no formal exchange protocol, and those from the Middle East/Latin countries are passing you a part of their honour, their machismo with them. In Middle East only senior business people exchange them.
2.Always pass your card the right way up so the other person can read it immediately. This shows consideration for the other person.
3.In Asia, offering and receiving cards is a very formal ceremony. Meishi koukan in Japan is a very important aspect of business etiquette. Placing the card in front of you on the table is an additional sign of respect. (See special section on Asian etiquette with videos). Show respect when you receive a card by using both hands. Especially in the Far East.
4.Always take the time to read someones card, this shows respect. In my experience, this is special advice for those from Anglo-Saxon cultures, as everywhere else I have travelled honours the passing of your card to them. Look at it, study it, and then put it away carefully.
5.Dont put it into your back pocket! This is disrespectful. Unfortunately, people from Anglo-Saxon cultures have the habit of just taking a card, giving it a cursory glance and (for men) placing it directly into a wallet that goes straight into the back pocket no thought given to that action at all.
6.Dont write on other peoples business cards! This is a great insult in some countries.
7.The Japanese like photographs on cards. These are beginning to become common in the US and UK. It really does serve as a good reminder.
8.Many US/UK companies are dispensing with job titles, as they are considered unnecessary. Titles are very important in most other cultures, so use them when abroad. They signify seniority and status. Germans are especially hot on their titles and academic qualifications and expect to be addressed by them.
9.Think about having a translation on the reverse side of your card. Dont have more than one other language printed on the back its false economy Hebrew and Arabic dont mix; Asians will feel slighted; and the different styles of writing (vertically, right to left, back to front) means that aesthetically your cards will look messy. There are more than fourteen major and three hundred minor languages spoken in India so which would you choose? English and Hindi are the official languages.
10.Present the card with the other persons language face up and the correct way round for them to be able to read. (Handy tip: if printed in a script you cannot read ensure there is a symbol in a corner that signifies to you which is the right way up. This helps if you need to hand over many cards in a meeting you can see it quickly without any effort).
Remember:: Your card is your Ambassador it card represents you, so dont use tatty or out-of-date ones. Your card leaves an impression of who you are. You dont want to appear cheap and nasty people will remember that of you.
Deborah Swallow is an inspirational speaker and a rare academic-entrepreneur who brings a deep understanding of cross culture communication to busy executives in a way that meets their needs in todays fast-paced, globalising business arena.