South African Business Etiquette (19+ Secrets to succeed)18 min read

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South African Business Etiquette

When doing business in South Africa, or in the work environment, business etiquette is essential. It is especially important at the office because you are expected to work with your colleagues and customers. You have to be courteous, polite and make sure you remember people’s names. This article will help you navigate the ins and outs of South African business etiquette.

If you are going on a business meeting in South Africa it is important to know the following gestures: shaking hands, smiling and exchanging pleasantries in Afrikaans or English when meeting for the first time, and congratulating someone on their recent achievement or success.

When traveling or meeting new people, it is good to make eye contact and smile as soon as you enter the room. You should also introduce yourself and shake hands with the person who is most important for the conversation.

When greeting someone new, be polite and kind and introduce yourself by saying “Good morning/afternoon”. You can start with either “Good afternoon” or “Good evening”.

Titles before names are very important in South Africa. To be polite, you should use their surname before their name: Mr. or Ms. Smith, Mr. or Ms. Brown etc., unless you know them very well, in which case you can use their first name and the title “friend” or “dear”.

It is considered rude to ask people for their opinion without first introducing yourself. Therefore, feel free to introduce yourself and let the other person know your name.

This is part of our article in the business etiquette series. We have also discussed the Business Etiquette in Ireland and the Swiss Business Etiquette.

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Our tips on South African Business Etiquette

1. Introducing yourself, the South African way

When you are visiting someone’s home or a business establishment, address the person you are talking to as “Mevrou/Meneer” (Miss/Mr) and your name.

It would be best to introduce yourself by saying “Good morning/afternoon” while you shake hands with the person.

However, if you are meeting someone for the first time, it is best to let them know your name first.

For example, if you are meeting someone, say “Good morning/afternoon, my name is (your name)”.

The other person may then decide to respond. If they don’t, then it is not necessary to introduce yourself again.

When introducing yourself, it is very important to make eye contact and smile as you are doing so.

2. Punctuality is important

As part of South African business etiquette, it is important to be on time for an appointment or meeting.

Be sure to arrive at your meeting or appointment a few minutes early so that you are not late. In South Africa, it is best to arrive at your scheduled time. Punctuality shows that you are organized and responsible for yourself.

If you are going to be late, call or send a text message beforehand and explain why. This will help avoid a potentially awkward situation.

When someone else is running late, they should inform their guests and keep them waiting for no more than 30 minutes before coming back.

If you are going to be late, call your business partner to let them know.

Being late to meetings is considered rude in South Africa.

So you should always make sure you arrive early when meeting someone for the first time or important meetings at work.

If you are running late, it is always good to call the host and let them know in advance.

Being on time will also show your respect for other people’s schedules, and it will help build good relationships with co-workers at the office or your boss.

3. Don’t use too many hand gestures

You should avoid waving your arms in the air to emphasize something. However, it is vital to make sure you keep eye contact with the person you are talking to while you are speaking.

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People who use too many hand gestures tend to be perceived as nervous and overly enthusiastic. This can be seen as a negative trait in South Africa.

It is also considered rude to put your hands in your pockets when talking to someone.

4. Shaking hands is a welcome gesture

As part of South African business etiquette, it is also considered a good idea to shake someone’s hand when you meet them for the first time. Shaking hands is not only a way to show respect, but it also sets an immediate feeling of friendliness between people.

When shaking hands, make sure to have your hand in an open and relaxed position and touch the other person’s hand with your fingers.

You should also look the person you are shaking hands with in the eyes.

In South Africa, to shake someone’s hand properly, you should gently touch three fingers of your right hand to the left hand of the person you are shaking hands with.

Keep your posture upright and make sure that your body is facing the other person. There is no need to stand up straight, but make sure you look them in the eye as you do this.

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5. Business cards are a must for any professional

Business cards are an excellent way to introduce yourself to other people. You should always have some business cards on you at all times.

Other people may only meet you once, so they will not necessarily always remember your name.

When you receive a business card from someone, you should thank them and wish them luck with the company they work for.

You should always place a business card in a clean and nice place when you receive it.

If you are giving someone your business card, make sure you have one side of the card empty for them to write information on it.

You should never take someone’s business card without first thanking them and wishing them luck with their company or project.

6. Make sure you are dressed appropriately

It is very important to dress neatly and professionally when you are at work. However, it is also important to pay attention to your clothes and make sure they are clean and tidy.

Wearing t-shirts that have offensive pictures on them or wearing too much perfume can be seen as a negative trait in South Africa, especially if you visit your business partner at home.

For a business meeting, the dress code is often black or grey trousers, a white shirt open at the collar, a tie, and a suit jacket.

It is perfectly fine to wear a suit coat as long as you wear your shirt properly.

All other parts of your clothing should match your shoes and socks. Don’t wear clothes that are too colorful or brightly colored. This will be seen as odd behavior in South Africa.

7. Offer to help others

It is a good idea always to offer others help when you are asked for it.

For example, if someone asks you to give them a hand with something, do so. It would help if you were not afraid to ask for help when you need it.

This will show that you are a polite and polite person. It shows that you care about others and are not selfish or selfish towards your own needs. This in turn, will put people at ease when they meet you or speak to you in the future.

In the business or work environment, helping others may take the form of giving them advice or sharing your experience with them. If you offer to help someone else, make sure you are doing so because you want to help and not because you want to show off.

People who offer help will always be seen as knowledgeable and trustworthy in South Africa. They are also seen as very generous people.

If someone asks for your help, don’t just tell them the answer but explain why it works the way it does.

8. Make sure you follow through

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When someone promises to do something or give you something, make sure they follow through. As part of South African business etiquette, it is important always to follow what you say.

If you say that you’re going to do something, make sure you tell the person when it will be done and then do it. If you don’t, other people will start to lose respect for you.

In case someone tells you they will do something, wait until they finish before giving them any praise or thanks.

If you don’t help people when they need it, that can be seen as rude and ungrateful. You should always finish what you start and do what you say you are going to do.

People who can be trusted to follow through on their promises are seen as respectful and trustworthy in South Africa. They can also build strong friendships with other people this way.

9. Don’t interrupt someone

If you are speaking to someone and someone else asks you a question, wait until they have finished speaking to answer them.

You should always finish what you are saying before answering someone else. If you don’t finish what you are saying first, it will seem rude and ungrateful.

In South African business etiquette, interruption is considered an offensive behavior so be careful not to do it.

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10. Don’t talk about politics

Politics is a very personal subject in South Africa. Although politics are part of our lives, we should avoid discussing them when socializing with people.

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The reason being that our views on politics may differ, and we may offend or upset the other person.

It is best to avoid talking about political parties or groups in the business or work environment and try to focus on business instead.

11. Don’t expect others to do things for you

When you know that the other person needs help, it is polite to offer to help them.

It is okay and very respectful in South Africa to act professionally even if you are not required or expected to do something.

As part of South African business etiquette, it is important to do as much as you can for yourself and not expect others to do things for you.

For example, it is perfectly fine to say “No” if someone asks you for something.

You don’t have to be nice or do anything for someone if you are not feeling like it. Being polite and respectful doesn’t mean you have to help everyone you see.

12. Avoid being offensive

It is important to be a nice and polite person in the South African business or work environment. In order to be seen as a good and professional business partner or employee, it is best to avoid being offensive or rude.

In South Africa, there are certain things you cannot do and say that are not considered polite or nice.

For example, it is rude and inappropriate to offend people with your humor. If you’ve already built a personal relationship with the person, it may be considered appropriate.

Furthermore, it is also not polite or friendly to speak about someone behind their back even if they are not there.

13. Don’t judge people

As part of South African business etiquette, it is very important to never judge or criticize people for what they look like or how they behave.

It would be best if you were respectful of everyone you meet. Never make fun of someone for how they look, their race, age, gender, their job title or salary.

Furthermore, it would help if you never judged anyone for what they are wearing either. Don’t say things like “Oh! That is a nice expensive suit.”

It would also be best never to assume that someone is rich because they are wearing expensive clothes.

In South Africa, it is rude and unprofessional to criticize people’s appearance or their lifestyle choices.

14. Don’t talk negatively

As part of South African business etiquette, you should never criticize other people or their work or ideas. This includes your business partners, boss, or co-workers.

In South Africa, it is considered rude to criticize other people or their work. Doing so can make other people feel insecure and will not be respected by others.

If you want to give advice or criticism, it is best to do this in private to not offend others.

The best way to give criticism is to make sure it is constructive. If you criticize something about a person without offering constructive advice, it will be seen as unprofessional and rude.

It would be best if you never criticized or point out other people’s mistakes in South Africa. Doing this will make them feel bad and uncomfortable and they can become defensive and stop working hard.

In the South African work environment, you should avoid criticism or complaints at all costs.

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15. Be a listener

As part of South African business etiquette, it is important also to be a good listener.

To be respected in the South African work environment, you should listen more than you talk.

When you are listening, your eyes should always look forward and not down at the floor. It is very rude to look down at your phone or a desk calendar when someone is talking.

If you are talking and someone is looking at their phone, it is best to wait until they finish using their cell phone before speaking again.

In business situations, it is also good to try and focus on listening instead of thinking about what you are going to say next. This will take some practice, and you should keep practicing this skill.

Some people find it easy to listen, but others find it difficult.

16. Keep your phone on silent mode as much as possible

It is considered rude to answer or ring your telephone in a meeting in South African business etiquette.

If you need to use your phone, it is best to excuse yourself and go somewhere else to speak on the phone.

Also, it is considered rude to text people during business meetings. It is important not to disturb others when they are talking.

Therefore, it would help if you put your phone on silent mode as much as possible in the business or work environment in order to avoid distracting other people in the office or meeting.

17. Address people properly

As part of South African business etiquette, it is very important to address people properly.

It is best to give everyone a basic introduction, including their title and last name.

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If people are introduced in the South African business or work environment, it is important to make sure they remember their names when they introduce themselves.

The best way to do this is to introduce yourself first when you meet someone for the first time. You should say your name and occupation and wait for them to reciprocate.

If you are having trouble remembering their name, there are some tricks you can use, like repeating their name out loud when they introduce themselves or asking them how they spell their name.

If you do not remember their name, it is better to ask them directly about it rather than guessing. For example, you could say, “I am sorry I can’t remember your name, but can you tell me again?”

It is also considered rude to call people by their first names unless you already know them personally or if they have told you that it is okay to do so.

In many cases, you will find that South Africans already have a short form of their name that they prefer. Therefore, you can always ask your business partner or colleague how they like you to call them, and they will often answer you.

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18. Avoid arguing in business situations

As part of South African business etiquette, it is considered rude to argue with people, especially when you are at work or business.

If you have a problem or complaint, you should speak to the person about it after work hours or in private.

It is also considered unprofessional to argue with someone while others are listening. It would be best if you made sure that nobody else can hear your argument.

In the South African work environment, it is best to avoid arguments altogether. Instead, it is better to take time out and calm down when you are disagreeing.

To avoid arguments, it is best to state your case calmly and professionally instead of arguing back.

It would help if you also tried not to get your boss involved in a disagreement as they might choose to side with the other person because they have more experience or authority over the issue.

19. Double down on compliments

In South African business etiquette, it is considered very friendly to compliment people on their work or behavior.

This includes your boss, co-workers, and other people in the work environment. It is best to ask someone privately if it is okay for you to compliment them.

If someone asks you what you think of something they have done or how they can improve, it is polite and appreciated if you tell them this in a private conversation.

It is considered good form to acknowledge someone’s effort or hard work. It is always polite to thank people for their effort or for the job they have done.

However, South African business etiquette recommends that you do this privately rather than in front of other people.

According to South African business etiquette, it is unprofessional and, in some cases, considered rude to compliment someone on their appearance.

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20. Visiting your business partner at home

If you are invited to visit someone’s home, it is customary to bring a small gift. If it is not possible, bring flowers or fruit.

In case you forgot something at home, always ask permission from your host before leaving the house again.

If you are invited to someone’s home, it is polite to bring a gift for the host. If you don’t have one, it is acceptable to bring something from your country.

Be punctual when visiting someone at their home or place of work – if you are late, arrive at most 5 minutes after your agreed time.

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Final thoughts on South African business etiquette

It is very important to follow South African business etiquette in order to make a good impression on your South African colleagues and clients.

If you follow these tips, you will be well on your way to improving your level of South African business etiquette.

If you want to impress people and improve your level of South African business etiquette, it is best not only to follow these basic tips but also to ask people directly about their preferred methods of communication or behavior.


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