Business etiquette

Wearing a suit and tie to business events is generally the acceptable way to dress
Wearing a suit and tie to formal business events is an acceptable way to dress

Understanding business etiquette in South Africa will go a long way towards making fruitful business connections in South Africa.

Although greeting styles vary - depending on ethnic group - the conventional Western handshake is most common among business people. Eye contact is maintained while shaking hands.

If you want to set up a business meeting with someone, make an appointment timeously. It’s advisable to call the day before to confirm an appointment.

The general business attire for men is business suit and tie, and for women, a dress or business suit. However, as in many parts of the world, this is also industry-dependent. What may be appropriately formal attire in the banking industry, may not be necessary in the IT industry.

Do not try and schedule meetings between mid-December and mid-January as this is prime holiday time in South Africa.

South Africans prefer face-to-face meetings than meetings through technological means, such as videoconferencing.

Networking is important to create meaningful business relationships, and many South African business people use the golf course for this.

Meeting deadlines is important to South African business people, so if you commit to a delivery time, be sure to meet your commitment.

Business people do not expect gifts from the people they are doing business with. If, however, you are invited to a colleague’s home, then a good South African wine, flowers or chocolates for the hostess are generally appreciated. Dressing casually on these occasions is the norm, but it is advisable to check.

It is acceptable to suggest a business meeting be held over lunch or dinner at a good South African restaurant, of which there are many. Some restaurants cater to the business market by offering private dining areas where meetings can be held.

When introducing a South African business colleague, you would generally use his or her name and surname. You would then say which company the person is from, and possibly also what the person does at the company. Introducing someone by first name only would be seen as too familiar in business circles.

If you’re doing business with people from more traditional tribal cultures, who still practise those cultures, it would be wise to find out what etiquette is required by those cultures.

Although there are many technological ways to swap contact information, South Africans still prefer the traditional business card, so it’s best to bring plenty of them with you, especially if you’re attending a conference.