If you are a business person coming to a foreign country in order to conclude an important business deal, it is very important to respect the local norms of behaviour and manners. The better your command of these social skills, the more you study the local customs in detail, the better the results of your negotiations. “Discover CEE” has put together some information on how to impress your business partner in Serbia.
From a closed one-party state into a democratic society
If your job takes you to Serbia, it is important to know that this country underwent a turbulent political, social and economic transformation in the past two decades. From a closed one-party state it grew into a democratic, more open society, welcoming many new investments, foreign companies, international offices and institutions and so on. All of this left its mark and brought about deep changes in mutual relations and business contacts, especially the intercultural ones. So, all the business rules accepted around the world also apply to Serbia. This is especially true for local branches of large international corporations.
Consider local specifics
Each business person worth his salt knows how important it is to get to know some local specifics which spice up each business contact. This is especially important for a country such as Serbia – a state where east meets west, a country of rich history and a multicultural environment. Even today, you will encounter differences if you compare the north or south of the country, or its eastern or western part. Still, when business relations are concernced, more or less some basic pieces of advice can be laid out in order to organise yourself better, lead and successfully conclude a business meeting, i. e. cooperation with Serbian companies.
How to meet your business partner from Serbia
The first impression is very important – starting from your attitude, followed by your appearance. The great majority of Serbs take care how they are dressed. A clean and classic business attire will always be suitable for meetings. Serbs are open, talkative people, some would say “warm“ (meaning they conduct themselves in the manner of a prudent business person and diligent owner, they show open interest in their guest or the person they are talking to). So, in the first meeting, do not hesitate to extend your hand and have a firm handshake with your business partner. This is the occasion to say your name, adding your title and profession. If there are several meeting participants, it is obligatory to shake hands with each one and if there are women present, then first shake the hands of the female participants and only then shake hands with the men. Business cards are usually exchanged at the beginning of a meeting, as soon as everyone takes their place. The custom is to thank the person and offer your own business card in exchange.
How to start a meeting
In Serbia you do not jump-start immediately into business matters. On the contrary, some people might even consider this approach rude, since it seems that this way you do not show interest in your conversation partner. This is why it is important to exchange some small talk, such as a few sentences about the weather, traffic etc. If the meeting is held in a smaller or private company, your attention should be on the owner/manager. Very often, it is useful to insert a few words concerning sports or even something from the private sphere.
If you speak Serbian, be sure not to confuse „Vi“ and „ti“
Serbs mostly use the last names in addressing each other, preceded by “Mr“ or “Mrs“ (especially used for middle-aged or older persons). Personal names are used only at a later stage, when the relationship becomes a bit more personal. If you are talking in English, you do not have to worry about pronouns, but if you speak Serbian or any of the languages of the SEE region, pay attention to address your business partner by the pronoun “Vi“ instead of “ti“. It is a question of manners to address unknown and/or older persons with “Vi“, until the other party makes the suggestion to switch to “ti“.
Keeping eye contact in negotiations
It is important to maintain eye contact all the time because that implies that you’re listening to the person. Very often meetings or negotiations are held outside office premises – for example in the popular Sebian “kafana“, a restaraunt. Successful negotiations can be concluded there and when a deal is signed a visit to the kafana is obligatory, where the deal is “sealed“ with good food and drink.