The Importance Of Common Ground And Being Understood To Establish A Business In Russia


Doing business in Russia is not just translating your current business, documents and all, into Russian. A simple, straight translation using a program or web tools can miss a lot of context as well as all of the important nuances of transacting Russian business. You need to understand both the language and the business culture if you are to be successful. What business culture and language issues make establishing a business in Russia so difficult?

The Language Itself

As with most languages, you cannot do a word-for-word translation and expect it to be right. There are a number of language factors that have to be correctly interpreted or you risk, at best, an embarrassing incident and, at worst, a failed business deal.

  • Slang expressions – there are a number of expressions that are just too rude or crude to be used in normal conversation. Even translating them into their equivalent may not quite convey the depth of these expressions
  • Different language basis – Russian is not one of the Romance languages so does not share a common basis or alphabet with many of the languages in Europe or the United States; instead, it is an East Slavic language and has a completely different, Cyrillic alphabet
  • Difficult to learn – Russian is quite difficult to learn, taking approximately 1,100 hours of instruction for a native English speaker to gain even intermediate fluency

The Business Etiquette

Transacting business can differ significantly between cultures. In the United States, there is often the tendency to just "get down to business" with a minimum of small talk and introductions. How you introduce yourself, what you say when greeting a Russian counterpart by name, and how you construct your presentations can all impact the success of your business ventures.

  • Arrival time – you should always be on time, even if your Russian counterparts are late. Russians respect punctuality even if they are not on-time
  • Greeting – make sure you know how you should greet the participants of your meetings. Introduce yourself by your surname and refer to your Russian business partners the same way
  • Visual presentations – these should be straightforward, functional, and, most importantly, in Russian whenever possible. Even though most Russian business people speak fluent English, the extra effort of presenting your written materials in Russian is appreciated
  • Your expertise and knowledge – one of the most important things for the Russian company considering doing business with you is that you are an expert and show in-depth knowledge of your field; you are presenting you as much as your company, services, or products

Common Ground and Understanding

It is important at each stage of your business negotiations to make sure that your Russian counterparts are expecting the same thing as you. With language barriers and different ways of doing business, it is common for misunderstandings to arise, leading to protracted negotiations or even failed business ventures. How do you do this?

  • Employ a Russian translator to make sure that your message is understood, both in verbal and written communications
  • Make frequent trips to Russia to discuss your business in person
  • Use available, market research to gauge if your business is progressing the way it should
  • Get to know your Russian counterparts; take them up on offers of entertainment outside of the negotiations and make appropriate entertainment offers yourself

Establishing a business venture in Russia takes significant time, resources, capital, and personnel. Taking the time to understand how to interact, conduct meetings, lead presentations, and establish common ground is critical to the success of any venture. 


11 March 2016

Enjoy a Culture Filled Vacation

Whenever I’m on vacation, I like to learn about cultures I’m unfamiliar with. For example, my husband and I plan to study Native American culture this summer while vacationing in North Carolina. We hope to learn how authentic Native American baskets are woven. I’m also interested in Native American pottery and jewelry items. If you have young children at home, consider introducing them to a different culture this year during a summer trip. Visit an exotic location. Tour interesting museums. Most of all, have fun discovering new things together. On this blog, you will discover how to plan a culture filled vacation. Enjoy!