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.)
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This World Business Culture profile is designed as an introduction to business culture in Russia only and a more detailed understanding needs a more in-depth exploration which we can provide through our training and consultancy services.