English language levels vary enormously in Russia. Many younger entrepreneurs (especially in the cosmopolitan centres like Moscow and St Petersburg) have a fluent command of, not only English, but often several other European languages.
Yet in other more provincial centres it is not unusual to meet business people who have little or no foreign language skills. Always check in advance whether interpretation is needed. If in any doubt about the comprehension levels encountered in meeting situations, be sure to check and recheck by asking relevant open questions at regular intervals.
(Outside Moscow and St Petersburg most signs are written exclusively in the Cyrillic script and knowledge of this will go a long way on a trip to the more remote areas of Russia.)
As with many other cultures (Mediterranean and Middle Eastern for example) much more emphasis is placed upon the spoken rather than the written word. People believe things when they have heard them from someone with whom they have a trusting relationship. Therefore, it is often much more efficient to hold face-to-face meetings at which issues can be fully explained, rather than sending information in a written format only.
There tends to be very little visual or verbal feedback during meetings in Russia. People listen silently and with little obvious body language being displayed. This does not, however, mean that the listener is disinterested or does not understand – it is merely a cultural characteristic which Russians share with, amongst others, the Finns and the Japanese. Russians will tend to wait and think before responding to a point made to them – do not be impatient. Allow the Russians the time and space needed to take part fully in the conversation (and remember that they are probably struggling with foreign language as well.)
Written and Produced by Keith Warburton
This country profile has been produced to give a short overview of some of the key concepts to bear in mind when doing business with contacts in Russia. It is intended to be an aid to business people who have commercial dealings with counterparties in the country but should not be seen as an exhaustive guide to this topic or as a substitute for more substantial research should there be a need.
With this in mind, we have covered the areas which are key to a better understanding of the cultural mindset underpinning business dealings in Russia and which are, quite often, extremely different from the approach and thought processes associated with business in other parts of the world.
Therefore this briefing note is broken into short, bite-sized sections on the following topics: