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Ask the expert: Taming the Russian bear


Cora Malina explains the importance of hierarchy in Russia in response to a question about working in Moscow.

Just wanted to find out if anyone has experience of working/facilitating in Moscow. Any advice, suggestions, successes, war stories, would be appreciated.
Wayne Mullen

Cora Malina, who designs and delivers cultural awareness training for culture and communication skills consultancy Communicaid, replies:

If you're planning to do business in Russia, here are a few key pointers you should bear in mind about its unique business and social culture.

The most important thing is to leave time at the beginning of a working relationship to get to know your Russian counterparts. Show an interest in their culture and if possible, learn a word or two of Russian as they will really appreciate your efforts and show you more respect.

A good strong handshake will be appreciated at the beginning and end of any meeting. However, be sure never to shake hands across a door or threshold as Russians believe this brings bad luck. When you enter the room, sit across from your Russian counterparts and know that the most senior person tends to sit in the centre of the group.

Hierarchy in Russia is still quite important. People with good educational qualifications or many years of experience will have a level of authority which is highly respected. Try to find out what their title is ahead of time so you can greet your Russian counterparts with respect. Knowing who has seniority will also help you in negotiations as most decisions are made top-down by the more senior members.

When communicating with Russians, it's important to take a more direct approach. The British indirectness and politeness will often be misunderstood, so by expressing yourself more explicitly you will help reduce any miscommunication. Don't be offended if Russians do not say please and thank you as often as the British: they are not being rude but simply more direct.

Meetings or negotiations may veer away from the agenda, but they tend to come back together again towards the end. As a result, it might take longer than you expect to get things done, so plan for this, but don't rush things through. Dedicating a little extra time to building relationships with Russians will improve your overall experience working with them, whether as a colleague, client or facilitator.

These are just a few ways of improving your relationships with your Russian counterparts. To truly maximise your business opportunity, however, it is important you gain a much more comprehensive understanding of Russian values and attitudes and how they can impact your experiences of working in Russia.


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