Swiss Business and Etiquette
Switzerland has one of the most stable and strongest economies in the world and is a major international business partner. Swiss society is known to be one of the most law-abiding in the world. The Swiss are known to be punctual, reliable, efficient and conservative; they do business deliberately and seriously to achieve the best results.
In order to do business in a foreign country successfully, it is necessary to be aware of cultural challenges and differences that affect business culture, protocol and etiquette.
Meeting and Greeting
When meeting a colleague, a business partner, a neighbor or an acquaintance, people shake hands. People are always addressed politely by their surname, unless somebody invites you to use the first name.
When invited to a meeting in Switzerland, it is essential to be on time. Swiss people appreciate punctuality. Even being 5 minutes late will be perceived as insulting, in particular in the German-speaking part of the country. However, time is a little bit more flexible in the French- and Italian-speaking areas.
Swiss are polite conversationalists, they are attentive and do not interrupt and they tend to keep a certain degree of detachment.
As they sharply separate their privacy from their professional lives including age, marital status, religion, or political orientation, it is not common to ask personal questions until a closer relationship has been established.
Swiss conversation style can come across quite sober and it is advisable to avoid jokes, especially in negotiations, which are regarded very seriously.
As Swiss people are rather formal and reserved, avoid slapping you colleagues’ back.
Some welcome topics of conversation are world affairs, your travels to Switzerland, winter sports, and the Romansch culture.
You should avoid topics such as World Wars I and II, the Swiss military, Swiss neutrality and its implications as well as money.
Swiss business environment is very conservative and highly regulated. The Swiss are known for their disciplined and deliberate way of doing business. They will refuse to rush a decision and are rather reluctant to take risks. However, they are considered to be extremely efficient and striving try to get the best possible results. Small talk is rare and especially in the German-speaking parts people are rather sober and will prefer to get straight down to business and usually there is no place for humor and jokes in negotiations.
Although the Swiss business environment is shaped by a rigid hierarchy, decisions are taken by a leader in agreement with his colleagues. However, this need for consensus may slow down the decision-making process. This applies in particular for the German-speaking areas while in the French- and Italian-speaking parts decision taking is more flexible.
Swiss try to see things from their opponent’s point of view and will always aim at establishing an equal partnership and mutual benefit. In the same way as they do not rush a decision, they would not be aggressive or demanding in negotiations.
What you should avoid:
Swiss society is extremely law-abiding and certain forms of behavior are likely to cause offense:
- Do not drop litter
- Do not cross a red traffic light
- Avoid making noise late on Saturday evenings
- Do not mow your lawn on Sunday mornings.
When talking to somebody, it might be perceived impolite having your hands in your pockets; the same goes for sitting with one ankle on the other knee.
When you need to point, use the whole hand. Pointing with the index finger only might be seen as obscene.
Traffic regulations are very strict in Switzerland and disobeying the rules will be punished by heavy fines.
When eating out, it is not necessary to tip. In Switzerland the tip is already included in the bills.