Swiss business culture is complex and vast. The different cultural influences from Italy, France, and Germany have a quiet strong influence on Switzerland. Nevertheless, the local culture prevails over the entire Swiss country. In this article, you are going to learn the universal Swiss business culture, that you should practice from Graubründen to Lake Geneva. And make no mistake, these are more than formalities. Swiss people value their cultural heritage and expect visitors to respect it and act accordingly. But knowing Swiss business culture will also be an advantage if you are planning to host a Swiss delegation in your country. Pleasing your partners will always give you an advantage.
If there is one thing Switzerland is famous for, it is punctuality. It isn’t an accident that this little country has so many famous watch brands. Make sure to arrive on time whenever you meet a Swiss person. They value punctuality more than anything else because it is a sign of respect. A person who arrives late is wasting their time, time that won’t come back, time they would like to spend in a thousand different ways. So, the worst way to introduce yourself to a Swiss person is by being late to the scheduled appointment.
On the contrary, arriving on time will be expected and respected. But to really make a great impression on a Swiss, you should arrive early. Present yourself with 10 minutes anticipation, and you have already found a place in your Swiss partner’s heart. Then, great him appropriately.
Is Switzerland, as in the rest of West European countries, people meet with a handshake. The procedure is quite forward and can be described as the following:
- Your Swiss partner will great you verbally while approaching you.
- S/he will stretch his harm in your direction before being close.
- At about 1,5 meter distance, s/he will stop and expect you to reach out for his hand.
- You should then shake the hand firmly while looking in his/her eyes.
- Wait for your partner to release your hand and invite you to take a seat, or to follow him in the meeting room.
Most probably, your Swiss partner will say something during the handshake. If you are not yet familiar with each other, s/he will introduce himself. If you are already familiar with each other, s/he will ask you if the trip, hotel room or similar, has been pleasant. This is a good moment to praise the qualities of Switzerland, which will lead you to the next step of Swiss business culture.
3. Small Talk
Swiss people don’t like to get personal with people they do not consider friends. So, avoid questions regarding:
- Dreams or life purpose
Instead, have some traditional small talk. This includes topics such as:
- Leisure activities around town
- Politics (Swiss people talk very openly about politics)
While having a small talk, pay attention to your body language.
4. Body Language
Adopt a conservative body language during business meetings with Swiss partners. Avoid unnecessary body contact and keep a good distance of 1.5 meters when talking. Also, try to limit your gesticulation. Swiss business culture values moderation. Therefore, exaggerated gestures, hand movements, yawning, shouting or talking loudly, pointing with fingers at someone, stretching, and getting too comfortable in the chair, is considered rude. Just avoid these behaviors.
5. Dress Code
Swiss people value good cloths and formal dress code during business meetings. Men should wear a dark suit with a tie, while women should wear suits or dresses. Keep it conservative. Don’t get too fashionable and avoid strong colors. To carry your documents, computer, or other work-related items, make sure to have an appropriate business style backpack or bag. And since Switzerland is famous for its high-quality products, you should consider getting a Swiss bag. It won’t pass unobserved to your Swiss business partner and will be an easy small talk topic.
Related Article: How to find a quality backpack to be happy with it forever.
6. Getting down to business
Once the pleasantries are done, Swiss people get quickly down to business. They like to follow a tight schedule which leaves little time for unnecessary talking. Follow their lead and be prepared. Have your documents ready or hold your presentation within the time limits. Everyone in the room is requested to do their best to achieve an agreement at the end of the discussion.
Remember that interrupting a person who is speaking is considered very rude in Switzerland, so let the person talk. Listen, make eye contact, write notes. Follow up with questions. Clarify open points. And never, EVER give the feeling to your Swiss partner that you are withholding information during negotiation.
Swiss people are known for being hard, but fair negotiators. Take this time very seriously, as there is no place for fun or sarcasm here. Share your ideas, concerns, proposals, etc. Remember to keep an open body language, to signalize your attention and openness for discussion. Don’t hide information or knowledge. Swiss people operate for the long term and will blow up a deal if they feel treated unfairly or tricked. So, expect clarity and straight forward talk. It might be unusual for certain cultures, but this how it is done in Switzerland.
8. Decision Making
Swiss business culture is pretty vertical. This means that high ranking managers are those entitled to take decisions. And they do. Employee’s opinions are valued, but they have no decision power. Nor are managers required to respect their opinions. This stands in strong contrast with the political structure of the country, which still relies on direct democracy (in some cantons). To get your requests accepted, you will need to convince the highest members of the company. So, be ready with a good story and strong arguments.
9. After Work
As said before, work and private life are strongly separated in Switzerland. So do not call your partner after work hours, or at home if it isn’t an emergency. Business entertainment is held in public places and spouses are welcome to join. It is usually held during lunch or dinner time (mostly the latter). Use this time to be less formal, but remember that your Swiss partner will still be reluctant to talk about very personal affairs. And if a Swiss will ever invite you to their home, accept the invitation. It is a great honor and you should be aware of it. Bring a bottle of good wine to the dinner, as the rest will be provided by the host. And here are more rules about Swiss dining etiquette.
10. Goodbye and follow up
It is usual in Swiss business culture, to thank your business partners for the warm welcome and generous treatment. Shake hands as you greet for goodbye, just as you did when meeting. Do not talk about business anymore, since by now all should be clear.
Follow up with your Swiss partners as scheduled during the meeting. They will expect you to be on time. If you know that you will delay, inform them some days of anticipation, and explain why. Remember that you should not call a Swiss partner outside the working hours, which are 08.00-18.00 o’clock.
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