Under no circumstances should you travel alone to important meetings in Russia. It is best to take a whole horde of consultants with you. This not only demonstrates your esteem, it indicates your great interest in the successful outcome of the talks.
Conference room tables are often arranged in a U shape at meetings in Russia. The boss or the decision makers sit in the middle. Even if another formation is chosen, it will invariably reflect the hierarchy.
Depending on the company, an agenda will be prepared for the meeting, listing all the topics for discussion. However, do not expect them to be handled in chronological order. Russians like to jump back and forth between the individual items and discuss the topics as they arise.
Punctuality is expected, although a delay of 15 minutes is still acceptable. The meeting tends to be open-ended, however.
The warm up
Avoid diving straight in at the beginning of a meeting. Russians appreciate conversation that goes beyond the boundaries of customary small talk. Showing genuine interest in your interlocutor is just as important as praising or paying compliments. Send out a clear signal that you wish to become acquainted with the people who have gathered together at this point. It is helpful to put out your “feelers” and flip the switch from rational thinking to the emotional mode. Be open and friendly, reveal your sense of humour and never, ever look at your watch.
Go along with the lengthy warm-up session and allow your Russian partners to chair the meeting.
During the ensuing discussion, you should appear motivated, avoiding any action that could potentially undermine the harmony. Most Russians despise anything that could be a source of conflict. Russians focus on relationships when communicating. A personal rapport with their counterpart will always take precedence over whatever factual information is to be provided. Therefore, they adopt a diplomatic, cautious tone. Criticism in particular will only be expressed in a roundabout way.
Very often, a Russian “yes” means nothing more and nothing less than that your partner is listening. Sometimes, answers in the affirmative are only to preserve the harmony. Russians will avoid a direct “no” wherever possible. Maintaining a good personal relationship comes before making a potentially confrontational statement.
If you give a presentation to a Russian audience, you should speak their language. On the one hand, this means sprinkling a few words in Russian to break the ice.
On the other hand, you should touch upon the much-vaunted Russian soul and appeal to their emotional side. Use the instrument of storytelling to your advantage. Get your listeners on board by creating an integrative atmosphere. Express your emotions. Use colours and images.
It is imperative that you avoid overloading your presentation with technical data. There will be plenty of time to go into further detail in informal discussion, for example, during the coffee break after your presentation. Therefore, you should limit your talk to a maximum of 40 minutes.
In general, questions will not be asked until you engage in personal discussion, rather than during or directly after your presentation. Russians are often reluctant to ask questions in front of others for fear of seeming stupid. At school, they were taught simply to repeat information and not to show initiative. If they make a mistake or misinterpret something, this is not seen positively as a step towards finding an overall solution but is merely embarrassing.
There may be repeated interruptions during a meeting in Russia. Telephones will ring and other business matters are dealt with simultaneously. Your Russian business associates will expect you to be understanding in this regard. On no account should you show your displeasure. Russians believe that life is unpredictable in many respects and that it is vital to respond appropriately to each situation. Therefore, schedule sufficient time for meetings and presentations to avoid being pressed for time.