Russia is the biggest country in the world and has quite a few industries that promote the country’s economic development. There are consequently still a lot of international employees sent there on assignments, especially employees from major global corporations. In addition to knowing business customs, the fundamentals of communication are an important aspect to ensure that collaborations are successful.
To begin with, mastering the Russian language will make your stay there vastly easier. While the amount of people who speak a foreign language is constantly increasing, the proportion is still significantly smaller than in many other countries. It’s also advantageous in business life to be able to explain your position or concerns in Russian. Because of their national pride, Russians often feel flattered if you can memorize at least a few important standard phrases and formulations. This breaks the ice faster, and it creates a foundation of trust. In general, though, no one will expect you to master fluent Russian.
Furthermore, when it comes to communication in Russia, people tend to say what they want directly. Beating around the bush is rather uncommon. Russian directness sometimes reaches a degree that can border on tactlessness for western tastes. But don’t worry, that’s usually not the intention. In fact, this can be beneficial to you because you won’t have to think of any circuitous formulations for rejections. If you calmly say what you think, it’s normally not taken the wrong way. Be careful, though – being too direct, especially when expressing criticism, is often taken personally.
Separate communication levels
The next noteworthy characteristic of Russian communication is the distinction between private and public communications. Most Russians keep these two communication levels strictly separate from each other. The warmth that’s often displayed in private settings tends to be left out of the public sphere. At the workplace, you should also pay attention to whom you encounter and how you encounter them. Communications in the business realm are strongly informed by the Russian tendency toward hierarchy. You’ll notice that even employees who have worked together for years usually speak to each other very formally.
Something else to be kept in mind is personal greetings. In Russian companies, every colleague tends to be greeted with a handshake every morning. The order of the greetings plays an important role here, as hierarchy has to kept in mind. An employee who has a higher hierarchical status than the rest, like a department head, should be greeted first. And by the way, eye contact is normally not made during greetings. This may seem very impolite, but it’s not uncommon in Russia. Please don’t interpret this as a snub!
The question ultimately remains, which conversation topics are appropriate in Russian business contexts? Traditional small talk as you know it is unfamiliar to most Russians. Small talk in Russia mostly takes place in the private sphere. Such conversations are especially uncommon during business negotiations and are generally considered unprofessional.
Of course, you can talk about anything and everything in intimate circles in Russia. However, you’ll see that Russian small talk tends to be deep. Philosophical topics are often broached, as are Russian luminaries, politics and history. You should consequently brush up beforehand on Russian artistic, literary and scientific personalities such as Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky and Kandinsky.
If you’re interested in topics, like project management or negotiations with business partners in Russia, we recommend taking our cross-cultural training on Russia. If you like to know more about our other possible target cultures, please check out the following link.