Coming in from the cold: Top tips for doing business in Russia

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Red Plaza in RussiaRussia is not only the largest country in the world, but also has one of the most promising economies, giving it huge potential to get ahead of the current leading industrialised nations. Cathy Wellings provides advice on how to avoid a frosty reception when doing business in Russia.

The Russian Federation spans 10 time zones and has around 142 million people, making it the ninth largest population in the world. Greater political stability and the diversification of Russia’s economy, combined with increased foreign investment flows, higher domestic consumption and rising oil prices have contributed to the energy superpower’s continuous economic growth over recent years.

Photo of Cathy Wellings"Avoid criticising any aspects of Russian history, culture or politics."

Russia’s work ethic is increasingly influenced by Western culture, but the Russians still have a unique set of values and attitudes and a different approach to communication, negotiation and decision making which could affect cross-cultural cooperation.

The following tips will help to ensure that you maximise your opportunities for doing business in Russia:

  • Address colleagues using their 'patronymic' name, based on the first name of their father. Addressing new contacts with their given name is considered impolite.
  • Since personal and informal contact is crucial when doing business in Russia, be ready to spend some time establishing a rapport before discussing business. Getting past the initial formality and reticence shown by your Russian colleagues might take time, but those who open meetings with talk of pricing have found to their cost that this approach results in failure.
  • Russians are very patriotic. Avoid criticising any aspects of Russian history, culture or politics. Good neutral discussion topics are sports (especially winter sports) and family.
  • In meetings, Russians prefer the direct approach. Therefore your presentations should be straightforward and comprehensible.
  • "Those who open meetings with talk of pricing have found to their cost that this approach results in failure."
  • Compromise is seen as a sign of weakness in business negotiations.
  • Russians are very status conscious and prefer to have meetings with those of equal status. Decisions tend to be made by the most senior person.
  • Don’t praise or reward anyone in public. This may be viewed with suspicion and can cause envy and jealousy.
  • Never shake hands across a doorway or threshold, as Russians believe this will bring very bad luck.

Cathy Wellings is the culture and communication manager at Communicaid. She oversees the design and delivery of more than 500 programmes in over 30 countries every year. She has lived and worked in France and Spain as well as the UK, training professionals in culture and communication skills.

For more information on Communicaid, visit the company's website.

We are running a country by country business etiquette guide. If there is a country that you would like us to look at, please let us know: email [email protected]

To see the other Country guides that Cathy has prepared click on the following links:

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The rising sun: Top tips for dealing with the Japanese market

Some like it hot: Top tips for smooth working in India

Taming the dragon: Top tips for dealing with the Chinese market

Living the dream: Top tips for smooth negotiations with the American market

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