Doing business in Russia

Russians start a first business meeting with small talk in order to get to know each other better. Don’t just talk about the weather and how you got there. A personal conversation beyond the usual small talk topics is absolutely desired. 

The fact that you are showing an honest interest in your Russian business partners is just as important as lots of compliments: praise the beauty of the country, the good food, or congratulate your Russian couterpart to his or her great office and the nice employees. 

Ask open questions, look at family pictures on the desk to talk about family and life in general. Tell a lot about yourself without getting too personal. 

No smile, please

What might make the initial small talk a bit tricky for you is the so-called “no-smile rule”. In Russia, it is not acceptable to smile at strangers. Therefore, many Russians are very reserved when they meet someone for the first time. 

When you almost desperately hope that the cordiality, warmth and Russian hospitality, you have heard so much about, finally shows, think back to the following sentence that explains the initial behaviour of your Russian counterparts best: “As long as you are a stranger, I have no reason to be friendly to you”. 

Permanent smiles to break the ice are frowned upon in Russia. With that you quickly arouse the suspicion that you want to hide something. By the way this is also why Russian shop assistants never smile at their customers! Seriousness on the other hand signals reliability. Therefore, you will be closely observed. Then the Russian side will decide if they like you.

Accept this and don’t let it unsettle you. Open up, be authentic, and the initial petrification of your Russian counterpart will gradually melt away.

Let’s see how things develop 

Now you can gradually put the business proposal in the centre of attention. Don’t be too hasty though and ask about the concrete form of cooperation or even pull a contract out of your bag. “Let’s see how things develop”, will be a sentence you often hear in Russian business.

You should be open, motivated and avoid anything that could potentially disturb the good harmony between business partners. In addition, Russians like to organise a programme that accompany business talks – e.g. to go to a sauna, a restaurant, bowling or karaoke singing. 

These joint meetings bring you closer on a personal level. Once you have been in the sauna with your Russian business partner and have had conversations about life, he will lay his cards on the table. 

Find out more about the business culture in Russia, before you continue any further business talks or negotiations. It certainly is worth it! 

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