One of the things that many foreigners find surprising about Switzerland is the adherence to Swiss business etiquette. Even though it may seem a little old-fashioned to outsiders, the importance of these rules and practices is key to understanding and surviving in Swiss business culture.
Most people associate Switzerland with banking secrecy, chocolate, and some of the highest-paid bank managers in the world. To many foreigners, this view of Switzerland is a bit overblown. Many people don’t realize that business etiquette plays just as significant a role in Switzerland as it does anywhere else.
From day one, you should understand that Swiss business etiquette is an incredibly important concept to grasp if you plan on surviving and thriving in the Switzerland business environment. Whether you are from an English-speaking country or not, understanding the basics of Swiss business etiquette will very likely enhance your experience and your performance in the country.
When you move to Switzerland, you will very quickly realize that many things are done differently here. If you don’t adjust your views accordingly, it is easy to get offended and take things personally. Swiss business etiquette is all about doing things correctly and at the right time, whether giving gifts, writing thank-you notes, or giving compliments.
- Our tips to succeed in Swiss Business Etiquette
- 1. How to Dress for a Switzerland Business Meeting
- 2. Do not show your wallet or billfold
- 3. Do not show off your money
- 4. Do not talk about money or use money as a bargaining tool
- 5. Do not discuss your family or private life in Switzerland
- 6. Do not mention religion or politics
- 7. Be prepared to switch from English to German and back again
- 8. Stay professional when speaking
- 9. Do not touch people on the back or shoulders
- 10. Gifting is a big part of Swiss business etiquette
- 11. Never decline a business card
- 12. Punctuality is important in Swiss business etiquette
- 13. The best way to meet your Swiss business partner is with a handshake
- 14. Accept a coffee or lunch if you are offered one
- 15. Set the tone when it’s time to start the meeting
- 16. Maintain eye contact when speaking to your Swiss business partner
- 17. Pay attention to the silence in the room
- 18. Listen carefully to the Swiss business partner
- 19. Your Swiss business partner may ask you to leave the meeting
- 20. Initiate small talk when your Swiss business partner is present
- Final thoughts on Swiss Business Etiquette
Our tips to succeed in Swiss Business Etiquette
1. How to Dress for a Switzerland Business Meeting
Dress appropriately for business. You will find that Swiss business meetings often have formal attire. For men, this usually means a suit and tie. (However, you will sometimes see people in ties and button-down shirts at business meetings as well.)
It is a bit different with women because they are not required to wear a suit to work. Still, you should dress as if you were attending an important business meeting or going to a job interview (as if you wanted someone to take notice of you).
If for some reason, you do not have a suit with you (this happens a lot to Americans), you can still attend a business meeting in the Swiss style. You can wear a tie and pants under a suit jacket.
Wear clean clothes. Having nice clothes makes all the difference between coming across professionally and looking like an older man trying to play junior executive.
Make sure that your shoes are polished and that your socks are white and shiny. If your suit is a dark color, make sure that it is stain-free.
2. Do not show your wallet or billfold
Your wallet or billfold should be concealed. In the U.S., when you sit down for a business meeting, you often place your billfold or wallet on the table in front of you so that the people with whom you are meeting can see how much money you have. In Switzerland, this would be considered very rude and inappropriate.
Your wallet or billfold should never be placed on the table in front of you or left out on your desk. If you are sitting on a couch, it can often be placed on a coffee table between you and your business associate, but it still should not directly face them.
You should put your wallet or billfold in your suit jacket pocket if possible. If you are not wearing a suit jacket, then put it away inside your briefcase. Don’t let anyone see how much money you have.
3. Do not show off your money
Swiss business etiquette is very strict about showing money. Many people will ask you to put your cash or credit cards away before a business meeting, even if you are not planning on exchanging money. You may be surprised at how much more polite and friendly people will be toward you when you comply with this request.
It is okay to show your credit card for essentials like restaurants or newspapers, but it is considered very poor form to flash your card in front of a Swiss business associate. Always take care to keep it concealed.
4. Do not talk about money or use money as a bargaining tool
In the U.S., it is common for people to discuss their salaries and wages during a business meeting, especially if they are in an interview. This is considered very impolite in Switzerland and can get you into serious trouble.
Swiss business etiquette does not place a high value on money. While you may think that the Swiss would be very interested in what you are earning, they usually don’t care. It is also not necessary to bring up your salary or pay rate during a business meeting.
Don’t even ask for a raise while you are in Switzerland. You can ask for one after you return home, but no one else will see it as impolite to decline your request until then.
Swiss business etiquette also does not place a high value on money. While you may think that the Swiss would be very interested in what you are earning, they usually don’t care. It is also not necessary to bring up your salary or pay rate during a business meeting.
5. Do not discuss your family or private life in Switzerland
In Switzerland, it is not considered acceptable to discuss personal issues in public. This is especially true when you are talking about difficult or serious topics. These topics include mental illness, suicide, divorce, illness, and other similar situations. The only time this subject should be brought up is if a person brings it up first.
In Switzerland, it is not considered acceptable to discuss personal issues in public. Swiss business etiquette forbids people from discussing their personal lives in public. It would help if you did not even mention the names of your wife or children, nor should you discuss your relationship with them in detail.
If you are asked about your personal life, it is appropriate to mention that you have a wife (or husband) and small children.
People will often ask if you have kids if you are contemplating moving from the U.S., so saying “yes” to this question can sometimes lead to more difficult conversations later on.
6. Do not mention religion or politics
Swiss business etiquette is very strict about politics and religion. If you are planning on working on a sensitive topic like politics or religion with a Swiss business associate, make sure that you agree with every other party involved before you get started. This way, there are no surprises at the end of the meeting.
The best approach to this type of situation is to ask everyone for their opinion before making any decisions related to your project or job.
Swiss business etiquette takes religion seriously. It is not to discuss matters of politics, the Bible, and other religious topics in public. This is a very touchy subject in Switzerland, so don’t bring it up unless your Swiss business contact asks you about it.
On the other hand, it is okay to bring up Christian religious topics if your Swiss business associate brings them up. (It makes sense because Christianity permeates all aspects of Swiss culture.
7. Be prepared to switch from English to German and back again
Swiss business etiquette is quite different in French-speaking cantons of Switzerland. It would help if you tried to make efforts to speak with everyone in the language they are most comfortable with. If you can do this, you will make sure that there is always a common language that people can understand, even if they are not fluent in other languages.
If you are speaking French, it is possible to speak all day without switching to German. It would be best if you tried to do this whenever possible.
8. Stay professional when speaking
Swiss business etiquette is very strict about what you say, how you say it, and how you behave during a business meeting. Certain things should be said professionally and acceptably to the people with whom you are dealing.
You should avoid using slang talk, swearing, or making any jokes in public, especially when you are in front of a group. Some people will look down on you if you do this.
Someone who swears is seen as disrespectful. It would help if you never swore in front of clients or superiors/superiors-at-earth (direct reports).
It is also important to avoid vulgar jokes during business meetings. If a business colleague says something funny, you should not repeat it in public. Some people will be offended if you do this.
Swiss business etiquette does not approve of swearing or vulgar language. It would be best if you avoided swearing or using foul language in the presence of clients, superiors/superiors-at-earth (direct reports), or business partners.
Furthermore, it would help if you also were careful about f-bombs, s@#$%s, and other curse words being used behind a person’s back or in private conversations. It is not okay to swear when you are angry, and it is never a good idea to use vulgar words in public.
9. Do not touch people on the back or shoulders
In Switzerland, it is simply not okay to touch people on the back or shoulders. It may seem like a small thing to do this, but it can be very offensive and disrespectful in reality. It would be best to be careful about touching people’s hands while you are shaking them.
There are several places in Switzerland where this rule applies. Specifically, this applies to the entrance to the train station and any place where people work. For example, in some shops, cafes, museums, restaurants, and other public places, there is a prohibition against touching other people on the shoulder or back.
If you are at a point where you cannot avoid touching someone’s back or shoulder by accident, you should expect that they will be offended. It would help if you never touched anyone on their backs or shoulders unless you ask them first for permission.
Swiss etiquette also requires that you do not touch another person’s hands. This is true even if they are offering you something. In this case, you should wait until they have finished talking before you offer your hand to them.
10. Gifting is a big part of Swiss business etiquette
Gifts are a very important part of Swiss business etiquette. They are often given on the first (or second) meeting. If you are going to give a gift, you should wait a few days before you offer the gift to your business partner. You should also make sure that you are not late in offering the gift.
When you do offer the gift, it is important to remember that it should be small. Swiss business etiquette suggests that you choose a small package to be held in one hand. It is also crucial that it does not contain any food items.
The gift should have a personal touch, but it should not say anything about you as a person. It should be something simple and close to your heart.
11. Never decline a business card
If you are presented with a business card, you should always accept it. In the business world, a person’s business card is quite important. It is not okay to leave a meeting with someone without getting their business card.
If your Swiss business partner offers their card to you, you must accept it immediately. You don’t need to read the card right away. The best thing to do is to put the card in your pocket (or purse). Just make sure that you don’t throw it in the trash.
Swiss business etiquette requires that you do not take a card from someone without offering one in return. You should also pay close attention to the cards you receive and make sure that you write down the contact information.
You will come across many different types of business cards when you are conducting business in Switzerland. The most common type of card is called a Visitenkarte. It is usually about 4.5 centimeters by 3.5 centimeters.
The card has a simple design on the front and the person’s name, business title or company name, e-mail address, address, and phone number printed in the upper section. The back of the card is usually blank except for an e-mail address and a website where you can read more about them.
Swiss business etiquette also requires that you always write down contact information for other people after speaking with them. This is true even if they are a client or a business partner.
You have to do this to write down their contact information. This is important because many people forget their contact information unless they write it down.
12. Punctuality is important in Swiss business etiquette
Swiss business etiquette expects everyone to be punctual. This means that you should be at work or a meeting on time, or within 15 minutes of the agreed time. If you are late, people will think that you are not serious about doing business with them.
If you are late to a meeting, it’s best not to call or text your Swiss business partner until after the meeting. You should also try to find out why they are late if possible.
13. The best way to meet your Swiss business partner is with a handshake
Swiss business etiquette demands that people shake hands when they meet each other for the first time. This means that you should shake hands with your new Swiss business partner after you say hello and exchange pleasantries.
If the Swiss shake hands with you once, they will usually shake hands twice when they leave. This is how they say goodbye. Most often, a handshake in Switzerland will be a firm and confident handshake. It should also be a little longer than your first handshake with them.
The longer the Swiss business partner shakes your hand, then the better impression it will make on you and them.
14. Accept a coffee or lunch if you are offered one
If you are offered a cup of coffee or another drink, it is appropriate to accept it. The same is true with food. Though the Swiss are known for their politeness, they love eating and drinking. If you get a good impression of them, it may be a good idea to ask if you can have some of their favorite food or drink.
If you decide to join your business partner for lunch or dinner, make sure that you find out if it is okay. You should also make sure that it isn’t too expensive before you do decide to join them.
15. Set the tone when it’s time to start the meeting
Swiss business etiquette also expects that people set the tone for any meeting. You should make sure that the tone of your meeting is serious and professional. As an ideas, you can do this by giving good talking points in advance of the meeting.
You can do this by stating your opinions on topics discussed or making some jokes at appropriate times throughout the meeting. This will help to create a more relaxed atmosphere for everyone in the room.
Try to avoid discussing personal issues or feelings with your Swiss business partner. This is something that is best discussed with close friends and family members.
Swiss business etiquette also expects that you leave the meeting on a positive note. You should make sure that you thank everyone for their time and effort in the meeting. Finally, it would help if you were sure to shake hands again before you leave.
You can also take some notes during the meeting if it helps to structure your thoughts for what you want to say when you start speaking again.
16. Maintain eye contact when speaking to your Swiss business partner
Swiss business etiquette also expects that people maintain eye contact when they are conversing with one another. This is quite different from some cultures where it may be considered rude to maintain eye contact.
If you are not used to maintaining eye contact with your Swiss business partner, you should make sure that you do. It is an excellent way of showing that you are listening to them and what they have to say. It also helps the other person feel like they have your full attention.
Eye contact is very important in Switzerland. You will notice that even the most influential people in the country make good eye contact. When you are speaking to them, it may be hard to keep your eyes on them when making eye contact with you.
Swiss business etiquette also expects that you maintain eye contact for approximately 4 to 7 seconds at a time. Though it may feel like it’s longer, try to hold your gaze for that amount of time.
This can be difficult because you are usually looking at the Swiss business partner’s face rather than at their eyes.
However, it is important to keep eye contact with them as long as you are speaking. It will make them feel like they matter to you and reinforce the feeling that you are meeting them for business.
17. Pay attention to the silence in the room
Swiss business etiquette also expects that you pay attention to any silence that may occur during a meeting. It would be best if you were sure not to interrupt your Swiss business partner when they are speaking. This is considered rude in Switzerland.
The Swiss are generally quiet people, and when you speak with them, they will not interrupt you if it’s not appropriate for them to do so.
When your Swiss business partner does speak, they will sometimes pause for a few seconds before they continue speaking. This is a good thing to pay attention to because it shows that they are listening and that you have their full attention.
You should also pay close attention to how much silence there is in the room. This will give you an indication of how much time your Swiss business partner has left to talk. If there is a lot of silence, it may mean that they are finished speaking and need more time.
Swiss business etiquette also expects you not to make negative comments about anything in the room until after the meeting is over.
18. Listen carefully to the Swiss business partner
Swiss business etiquette expects that you do listen closely to what your Swiss business partner has to say. You should be sure that you are paying attention and not just thinking about what you will say next. This is a good idea because it shows that you care about what they have to say.
Swiss people are very direct and firm when they speak. They will not beat around the bush when they have something to say. If you are paying attention to them, then they will feel that you care about what they have to say.
If you disagree with them, then don’t discuss it until after the meeting is over. You can discuss it with them at another point in time if necessary. If you disagree with your Swiss business partner, try to show respect for their point of view.
19. Your Swiss business partner may ask you to leave the meeting
Swiss business etiquette also expects that if you are invited to join your Swiss business partner for a meeting, they will do everything possible to make sure it goes well. It would help if you remembered that they hold the authority in the meeting and tell you to leave at any time.
There are several reasons why your Swiss business partner might ask you to leave a meeting. Some of them include:
- They want to end the meeting early or shorten it for some reason.
- They want to speak with someone alone about the conversation that they have been having.
- In case they need to tell you something important in private.
These few seconds, you are waiting for them to speak again where you should pay attention to them. You can also try to note any changes in their body language or facial expression as they talk. This will help you understand what they have to say in the future when you meet with them again.
20. Initiate small talk when your Swiss business partner is present
Swiss business etiquette also expects that you initiate some small talk at the beginning of the meeting. It may be an expectation that you make small talk with your Swiss business partner, but it is unnecessary.
You can begin initiating small talk by discussing the weather or how long the meeting will complete. This is a good thing to do because it will help you and your Swiss business partner feel more comfortable with one another.
It also helps to relieve some of the nervousness that you may experience leading up to the meeting. It can be challenging to put yourself out there and meet with other people. This is especially true if you don’t know them very well or if this is the first time that you are meeting them.
Final thoughts on Swiss Business Etiquette
Swiss business etiquette is not always clearly outlined in the Swiss culture. There are many reasons that you will have to abide by specific rules and codes of conduct when you are meeting with your Swiss business partner. If you want to become a successful businessperson in Switzerland, these tips will help you get there.
There are many things that you need to consider when you meet with your Swiss business partner. These tips will help you understand what is expected of you and what you need to do to get along with them. If your goal is to make it up the Swiss corporate ladder, these tips will help guide you through the maze of Swiss business.
It can sometimes be challenging to follow these rules and codes of conduct during the meeting because they may not seem relevant.
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