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Sharon Schweitzer        

Highly Acclaimed Author of Access to Asia, Cross-Cultural Communication Expert, International Etiquette Expert, 60+ countries & 7 continents.

Sharon Schweitzer is an intercultural consultant, international etiquette expert and author. Sharon came to intercultural field through her life and legal experience, often advising clients about interaction and behavior in local and international business situations.

Sharon has traveled over 60 countries on seven continents; conducting business, advising, and training training with organizations ranging from large law firms and Global 2000 companies to startups, universities and nonprofit foundations. Clients include MD Anderson, Charles University in Prague, the Ohio State University, University of Texas, Hilton Hotels, and Capitol Services.

Sharon has served on numerous boards and is on the team of experts at the leading government affairs and consulting firm, Strategic Partnerships, Inc. She has regularly appears on CBS and Fox TV, NPR radio and writes for business and legal publications, including NSIDE Business Magazine, American Lawyer Media, Society Diaries and various business publications. Sharon is married and lives with her husband John and their golden retriever Charm in Austin, Texas.

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Cultural Awareness: Practical Tips for Global Success

Interactive Workshop for expanding cultural awareness.

Modern Manners at the Dining Table

Business leaders participate in an interactive Four-Six Course Meal (sample sizes) gaining 50 dining skills including silent service codes, host v. guest napkin placement, social v. business rules for standing and sitting at the table, difficult menu pronunciations and more.

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5 Ways to Build Cross Cultural Relationships in Asia

Whether you're travelling from Toronto to Taipei, Montreal to Mumbai, or Ottawa to Osaka, cultural intelligence is crucial to navigating business relationships overseas.

Over the last four decades, Asia has seen immense global economic growth. But what does this mean for you as a global business traveller? Whether you are an executive, entrepreneur, or emerging leader, knowing more about how your Asian counterparts do business will give you a distinct competitive advantage and allow you to build successful, long-lasting business relationships.

As an intercultural communication and international protocol expert, I've travelled to and closely studied the cultures in 10 Asian countries: China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan. Today, whether your focus is on sales and marketing, distribution channels, or overall operations, I assist organizations and executive teams with the cultural intelligence needed to succeed in today's competitive global markets.

Improve your communication and increase your revenue by starting with these five key tips:

  1. Determine whether the culture is individual or group oriented

The terms individualism and collectivism refer to the tendency for cultures to orient toward the self or the group. In individualist cultures, such as Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, people consider themselves individually responsible when making decisions and deals. Conversely, people from collectivist cultures, common to Asia, prefer group representation in meetings and negotiations. In fact, in many Asian countries, including China, Japan and Singapore, making a decision without group input is avoided.

Fast fact: In Myanmar, senior-level decision-makers are not as consensus seeking as leaders in other Southeast Asian cultures.

  1. Compare rules and relationships

A Chinese philosopher was once asked why the East and West had developed such different habits of thought. "Because you had Aristotle and we had Confucius," he replied. For example, in the U.S., written rules tend to be regarded as sacrosanct. Moreover, for most U.S. businesspeople, a contract is the relationship. Not so in most Asian cultures, where people see the world holistically, or comprised of completely interdependent relationships.

Fast fact: In China, where business agreements may be regarded as merely guidelines, the Chinese tend to be surprised by a Westerner's refusal to renegotiate a price or contract.

  1. Understand concepts of time

In monochronic cultures, common in the West, time is regarded as linear, or sequential--meaning that people do one thing at a time. In polychronic cultures, such as those often found in Asia, it's customary to do many things at once. Accordingly, interruptions are routine, agendas are dispensable, and schedules are subject to change.

Fast fact: In Taiwan, people work an average of 2,200 hours a year--a full 20 percent more than employees in Japan and the United States. Accordingly, at the noon hour, some Taiwanese companies offer workers "nap time," including dimmed lights and soothing music.

  1. Factor in social vs. business crossover

Just as people in the East and West regard time differently, they also choose to spend that time in their workplaces differently. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Delaware considered the number of hours employees spend on work-related tasks as compared to social activities, such as chatting casually, celebrating coworkers' birthdays, or checking out a team member's vacation photos. In the U.S., the split was 80/20. But in Asian countries, including India and Malaysia, it was 50/50. This emphasizes the important role of relationships in collectivist cultures.

Fast fact: In Malaysia, business guests are expected to recognize and respect the country's diverse cultures, and to accommodate each one when celebrating, dining, or socializing.

  1. Understand women in business

There are no hard-and-fast rules on how women succeed in the world of work. Nevertheless, the Third Billion Index is a helpful gauge. Compiled from a myriad of indicators that affect women's economic standing, such as entrepreneurial support and equal pay, it features 128 countries worldwide. Scores range from 70.6 at the high end (Australia and Norway tied for the top ranking) -- Canada was ranked #7 with a score of 67.2 -- to Yemen, which scored 26.1. Canada ties for the highest ranking in women's pay with Australia, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Sweden.

Fast fact: The Filipino culture may value machismo, but in business, women are considered as equals to men. On the Global Gender Gap Index, for instance, the Philippines ranks second only to Norway in women's ability to rise to leadership positions in enterprise.

If you are a business leader in the global economy, becoming culturally aware and learning to build trust, inspire respect, and create successful, long-lasting business relationships in Asia will increase your global aptitude and lead you on a cross-cultural journey to increase your organization's revenue

Is an Email Enough? 5 Tips to Craft a Memorable Thank You Note

Yes, email and texts have eclipsed letters and telephone calls in our global economy. The world has moved on, and email thank you notes are appropriate for many occasions. However, if you have received a gift from a business associate, client, or colleague, business etiquette requires a handwritten note. All etiquette experts agree on one thing: handwritten thank you notes are brilliant, elegant, and absolutely necessary. When the giver sets aside both time and funds to select and send a special gift, spending 10 minutes and a forever stamp to say thanks is a relationship-building opportunity. Email, Facebook messenger, Snapchat, text, and bitmoji are lightning-fast, but we all know: they're free and easy, which makes them less valuable as gestures.

So what makes a memorable note? Today I received a timely handwritten thank you note from the organizer of a Global Etiquette training session. My eyes were naturally are drawn to the handwriting because it stood out in the mass of pre-printed envelopes. This envelope had lots of texture, with the return address imprinted on the envelope flap, and the thoughtful note inside was written on custom stationery:

Dear Sharon, Thank you for coming to train my scholarship students. They enjoyed your International Etiquette session so much, and have already been talking about using your suggestions in their interviews. When they return to campus next week we will be talking about resumes and interviews, so your information was great. I so appreciate the gift of your new book Access to Asia. It was so thoughtful of you to give it to me - and it is such a useful gift for me to have for these students. With much appreciation, Susie Susie's note includes all of the touch points that are so important in a personal thank you note. So what can you take away from Susie's note to make yours just as special?

  1. Send Thanks for a Gift or Gesture: A note should be sent when someone does something special or goes out of their way for you. The note can be as short as three sentences and should be sent when someone:

• Gives you a gift for a holiday, birthday, bar mitzvah, wedding, or baby shower

• Sends you a special delivery of cake balls, flowers, or Korean pears

• Hosts a banquet, party, dinner, shower, or soiree in your honor

• Invites you to a party, concert, symphony, SXSW, opera, gala, or Vienna ball

• Invites you for a stay in their home, beach or lake house, ranch, or yacht

• Writes a business recommendation or reference

• Refers a client or business

  1. Invest in Personal Stationery: Clothes may make the man; however, with thank you notes, high quality stationery makes the best impression. Select the best quality stock you can afford, and customize stationery with your monogram or logo. Avoid cute, informal, or over-done designs that don't translate well across borders.

  2. Be Short, Sweet & Specific: Use the following formula: Specifically mention the gift received, the introduction, the gracious act, how they positively impacted you or your business, your future plan, and repeat your appreciation. The note can be short and sweet. 'Thank you for coming to train my scholarship students' 'I am so appreciative of the gift of your new book Access to Asia...' Be sure to mention why you like the gift: 'They enjoyed your International Etiquette session so much.' State your future plans: 'and it is such a useful gift for me to have for these students' 'When they return to campus next week we will be talking about resumes and interviews...'

  3. Sign with a Flourish & Mail: Sign with action words like 'Sincerely' or 'Kindest regards,' which are formal and standard in international circles. Domestically, closing with an informal 'All my best' or 'Best regards' is common, while 'Best' is passé. Mail the note within 24-48 hours.

  4. Text Acknowledgment of Gifts: Now, what about those international gifts? Should I text a 'gift received' confirmation to the sender before mailing a handwritten note? Can we update analog etiquette rules for digital relationships? I am frequently asked, "Can I skip the handwritten note and just send an email?"

Peter Post, the Chairman of the Board of the Emily Post Institute and author of Essential Manners for Men, and I chatted about this quandary. Peter advises, "Don't presume an email was successfully received; it may have been blocked by a spam filter or firewall, or end up in someone's trash folder."

When a gift is received, send a short text along the lines of "Thanks, received your gift and looking forward to opening it!" Avoid the awkwardness, and send a text before the handwritten note to avoid that dreaded question "Did my package arrive?" This is especially helpful when you expect to have multiple points of contact with the person before the note arrives. Even if you mail a note on the day the gift is received, the speed of Wi-Fi wins every time.

Think of handwritten notes as an opportunity to build the relationship, not an obligation, People open handwritten notes before other mail to save and display them. Digital communication gets deleted and handwritten gets saved. Would you rather be remembered or deleted? In the day of insta-everything, it's okay to thank twice.

Doing Business Abroad Means More Than Knowing The Language

Did you know that in Japan and Hong Kong it’s taboo to blow your nose or clear your throat in public? Or in China to stand with your hands in your pockets?

Doing business in foreign countries requires more than overcoming language barriers. You better understand their culture. Tips:

• Research host countries. Have some grasp of their past and present and accepted practices, urges Sharon Schweitzer, author of “Access to Asia,” a multicultural guide. You can earn respect by conversing about current affairs.

• Get the nuances. The political scene in Malaysia is volatile, so avoid talking about politics or religion, underscores Schweitzer, the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide, which helps create business relationships: “However, if the conversation is initiated by Malaysians, it would be considered impolite to be ignorant of domestic current affairs.”

Also, prepare for the fact that you won’t hear “no” often in that region. “Due to the importance of saving face throughout Asia, this kind of direct communication is considered impolite,” she said. Chinese prefer: maybe, possibly, it is inconvenient, I am not sure and perhaps.

• Use their analogies. Get a handle on host country heroes. “It is a great way to inject material into presentations that your hosts will appreciate,” Schweitzer said. In the Philippines, “Manny Pacquiao is the sports analogy to use, as opposed to American football, which will not resonate as well with the Filipino audience.”

• Interact. Schweitzer suggests that her clients in one country visit or at least Skype with colleagues in another country; that helps them go face to face with a culture.

• Protect your flanks. Schweitzer notes that when Chinese businesspeople come up against a problem, they don’t look for a lawyer; they look to strengthen the business relationship or create another alliance to solve it.

David Wolf, managing director of public relations firm Allison & Partners’ Chinese practice, and author of “Public Relations in China,” says the number of groups that can throw your business into a tailspin in that country is growing.

He asks: “Do you know all of the people in government who think that they have an interest in your business? Are you (for example) being quietly undermined by an obscure academic in a government think tank?”

• Join the party. Schweitzer contends that too many American businesspeople think of their Asian travels like surgical strikes, where they parachute in and helicopter straight out: “In Asia, this cold, transactional approach is not how business is conducted.” In Japan, “you may be thought of as untrustworthy, arrogant or lacking in sincerity” for turning down socializing and going out to a happy hour.

It’s also taboo to pour a drink for yourself and not your companions.

• Get your offering right. This is the biggest issue that trips up many companies entering China, more significant than government intervention, regulatory challenges and competition, Wolf cautions.

“The first stumbling block is product,” he said. “Far too many companies come to China thinking that they can offer the same product or service that they do at home and that will be sufficient. And it may be — for the first month or eight weeks. If you don’t start localizing your offering immediately, somebody else will.”

He cites LinkedIn (LNKD) as one that learned about challenges in China, avoiding conflicts between what it does in Shanghai and how that plays in America.

Also there, don’t blow it by placing a briefcase on the floor. That’s another no-no.

Global Etiquette at 200 MPH: Formula One Brought the World to Austin

This weekend marked Austin's fourth year hosting Formula One racing, an event that brings hundreds of thousands of visitors from all around the world. The winner this year, Lewis Hamilton, hails from England. It's a huge event for this town: the Austin Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas attracts more people than South by Southwest and the Austin City Limits Music Festival combined. So along with some good old Texas hospitality, we've also developed an abiding intercultural awareness.

From business leaders to restaurants to snack bars to shops, it was bound to be a weekend of interesting encounters. With the exception of the Olympics and the World Cup, there is no sporting event with more viewers -- even the Superbowl. Formula 1 weekend is viewed by millions of people around the world -- some 425 million last year. So with the globe watching, it's always a great opportunity to convey our savvy of intercultural etiquette and protocol.

Consider these 4 practical tips as a gentle reminder for anyone hosting international customers:

More Formal Greetings We've gotten used to a very casual level of familiarity, particularly in restaurants and other service industries. But with international customers, it's best to be ready with a "Good morning" or "Good afternoon" -- "Hi there" is just far too familiar. It's also a good idea to use appropriate titles, along with last names, when conducting a transaction, returning a credit card, or presenting a check or bill. Don't ask, "Hi, John, and how did you enjoy your meal?" as has become a checkout custom in certain restaurants. Until you're invited to use a first name, use Mr., Ms. or Dr. along with the last name. It may be true in the U.S. (as well as in Australia), that we don't want to appear snobbish, or making a class distinction. But Latin Americans, Europeans and Asians use titles when greeting and introducing each other, and they expect us to do the same.

Longer, Later Meals Dining customs differ around the world. In this country, "eat and run" and "let's grab a bite" are the norm. But that's not the case for many international diners, who consider meals to be social events, meant to be savored. Be prepared for international diners to linger over their meal, order dessert and sit talking over their coffee for a good two or three hours. Even in the heat of summer, some cultures, particularly Latin American, believe that coffee is king -- to be enjoyed after every meal, regardless of the temperature outside. And meals start at different times as well. In Mexico, the main meal is taken at midday -- typically, at around 2:00 p.m. In Spain, the main meal is dinner, and eaten late, often starting at around 10:00 p.m.

Less Personal Space Different cultures have different concepts of what personal space means, including ours. Do not be surprised or caught off guard if an international visitor seems to be standing too close to you: it could be that they consider an acceptable social distance closer than what most of us do in the U.S. And should you step back or step away, they may take offense -- and terminate the exchange or conversation. By comparison, here are some general standards in the U.S., as delineated in The Hidden Dimension by Edward T. Hall. According to Hall, there are several categories of personal space, each with its own distance: Intimate distance (0 - 18 inches), personal distance for good friends and family members (18 inches - 4 feet), and social distance for acquaintances and colleagues (4-12 feet.) In the U.S., standing too close may be construed as aggressive or pushy, while standing too far away may be seen a sign of disinterest. One possible strategy: allow the international guest to dictate the proximity, so long as it's within your cultural comfort zone.

Yes, Tips are Different Tipping customs vary around the world. In some areas of Europe and in certain countries, including Australia and Japan, the gratuity is built into the cost of the meal, and tips are not added. Nor is tipping customary in all countries. So servers should not be surprised if they don't receive a tip -- and nor should anyone around to witness it. In fact in some cases, a tip could be construed as a negative: many seasoned international protocol guides will tell you that in Japan, if a tip is left for a server, the Japanese are offended. In other countries, it's customary to tip 5 - 10 percent. In past years, to try and bridge the gap (and help the wait staff), some restaurants in Austin installed tasteful tabletop signs, advising patrons that there would be an automatic 18 percent gratuity added during Formula One Grand Prix weekend. The strategy was a success.

With events like the Grand Prix, Central Texas has become a global destination. It's a terrific opportunity to further our intercultural understanding and show our wisdom. You never know: you may be the first impression an international visitor has of the U.S.A. We did it beautifully this year. Next year, let's make it even better.

Is an Email Enough? 5 Tips to Craft a Memorable Thank You Note

Yes, email and texts have eclipsed letters and telephone calls in our global economy. The world has moved on, and email thank you notes are appropriate for many occasions. However, if you have received a gift from a business associate, client, or colleague, business etiquette requires a handwritten note. All etiquette experts agree on one thing: handwritten thank you notes are brilliant, elegant, and absolutely necessary. When the giver sets aside both time and funds to select and send a special gift, spending 10 minutes and a forever stamp to say thanks is a relationship-building opportunity. Email, Facebook messenger, Snapchat, text, and bitmoji are lightning-fast, but we all know: they're free and easy, which makes them less valuable as gestures.

So what makes a memorable note? Today I received a timely handwritten thank you note from the organizer of a Global Etiquette training session. My eyes were naturally are drawn to the handwriting because it stood out in the mass of pre-printed envelopes. This envelope had lots of texture, with the return address imprinted on the envelope flap, and the thoughtful note inside was written on custom stationery:

Dear Sharon, Thank you for coming to train my scholarship students. They enjoyed your International Etiquette session so much, and have already been talking about using your suggestions in their interviews. When they return to campus next week we will be talking about resumes and interviews, so your information was great. I so appreciate the gift of your new book Access to Asia. It was so thoughtful of you to give it to me - and it is such a useful gift for me to have for these students. With much appreciation, Susie Susie's note includes all of the touch points that are so important in a personal thank you note. So what can you take away from Susie's note to make yours just as special?

  1. Send Thanks for a Gift or Gesture: A note should be sent when someone does something special or goes out of their way for you. The note can be as short as three sentences and should be sent when someone:

• Gives you a gift for a holiday, birthday, bar mitzvah, wedding, or baby shower

• Sends you a special delivery of cake balls, flowers, or Korean pears

• Hosts a banquet, party, dinner, shower, or soiree in your honor

• Invites you to a party, concert, symphony, SXSW, opera, gala, or Vienna ball

• Invites you for a stay in their home, beach or lake house, ranch, or yacht

• Writes a business recommendation or reference

• Refers a client or business

  1. Invest in Personal Stationery: Clothes may make the man; however, with thank you notes, high quality stationery makes the best impression. Select the best quality stock you can afford, and customize stationery with your monogram or logo. Avoid cute, informal, or over-done designs that don't translate well across borders.

  2. Be Short, Sweet & Specific: Use the following formula: Specifically mention the gift received, the introduction, the gracious act, how they positively impacted you or your business, your future plan, and repeat your appreciation. The note can be short and sweet. 'Thank you for coming to train my scholarship students' 'I am so appreciative of the gift of your new book Access to Asia...' Be sure to mention why you like the gift: 'They enjoyed your International Etiquette session so much.' State your future plans: 'and it is such a useful gift for me to have for these students' 'When they return to campus next week we will be talking about resumes and interviews...'

  3. Sign with a Flourish & Mail: Sign with action words like 'Sincerely' or 'Kindest regards,' which are formal and standard in international circles. Domestically, closing with an informal 'All my best' or 'Best regards' is common, while 'Best' is passé. Mail the note within 24-48 hours.

  4. Text Acknowledgment of Gifts: Now, what about those international gifts? Should I text a 'gift received' confirmation to the sender before mailing a handwritten note? Can we update analog etiquette rules for digital relationships? I am frequently asked, "Can I skip the handwritten note and just send an email?"

Peter Post, the Chairman of the Board of the Emily Post Institute and author of Essential Manners for Men, and I chatted about this quandary. Peter advises, "Don't presume an email was successfully received; it may have been blocked by a spam filter or firewall, or end up in someone's trash folder."

When a gift is received, send a short text along the lines of "Thanks, received your gift and looking forward to opening it!" Avoid the awkwardness, and send a text before the handwritten note to avoid that dreaded question "Did my package arrive?" This is especially helpful when you expect to have multiple points of contact with the person before the note arrives. Even if you mail a note on the day the gift is received, the speed of Wi-Fi wins every time.

Think of handwritten notes as an opportunity to build the relationship, not an obligation, People open handwritten notes before other mail to save and display them. Digital communication gets deleted and handwritten gets saved. Would you rather be remembered or deleted? In the day of insta-everything, it's okay to thank twice.

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