In Turkey, your success is defined by your ability to build effective personal relationships combined with a clearly outlined and well-presented proposal.
Business is personal. Although this is changing with the influx of big multi-nationals and more of a corporate culture in some of the larger companies, many businesses are still family owned and run.
Where professional titles exist, such as Doctor or Professor, always use them.
Business dress is somewhat conservative, so you will be expected to wear a suit and tie. Similarly, women should wear fashionable professional outfits.
In the summer, especially in the cities of Istanbul, Izmir and Anakara, the weather is very hot and humid so it is acceptable for men to wear a shirt with trousers and in most cases not to wear a tie.
There is a West-East divide in Turkey on the issue of Islam. Generally, the Eastern Turks are a lot more conservative due to their closer adherence to Islamic values. Western Turks, especially those in Istanbul, Ankara or Izmir are usually a lot more westernized. Islam takes on more of a cultural feel rather than a religious one. Depending on where you are, be careful how you approach any topic about Islam.
Turks will want to do business with those they like, trust, feel comfortable with and with those that can provide a long-term relationship.
The first meeting should be solely focused on getting to know each other. Once a relationship has been established, you can safely move on to business matters.
When meeting, shake hands firmly. When departing, it is not always customary to shake hands–although it is occasionally done so follow the cues. Friends and relatives will greet each other with either one or two kisses on the cheek.
When entering a room, if you are not automatically met by someone, greet the most elderly or most senior first. At social occasions, greet the person closest to you, then work your way around the room or table counter-clockwise.
Holding hands with someone from the opposite sex is acceptable in the cities and vacation areas. In rural Turkey and the East, this would be frowned upon.
The Turkish gestures for ‘yes’ and ‘no’ can be quite confusing. ‘Yes’ is indicated with a nod of the head upwards, while ‘no’ is also an upward nod but accompanied by the raising of the eyebrows. A sure sign that a ‘no’ is meant is if it is accompanied with a hissing of the teeth.
Queues do not operate as they do in the US or Europe. It is not uncommon for people to jump queues or even go straight to the front. It is best to be patient and politely point out that you were in the line before them–although most of the time this will make little difference.
Turks are very astute businesspeople. Ensure any proposal clearly demonstrates the mutual benefit and profitability of any agreement or partnership.
When negotiating, the Turks may start at extremes to gage your response. Prior to negotiations know your target figure and work slowly towards it through meaningful concessions.
It may not always be necessary to focus solely on financial benefits when negotiating. It is also useful to point to areas such as power, influence, honor, respect and other non-monetary incentives.
Decision making can be slower than in many other cultures. It is likely that you will meet and negotiate with less senior members of the company first. Once you are seen as trustworthy and your proposal financially viable, you will move on to more senior leaders. A decision is ultimately made by the most senior in charge.
Most business entertaining will take place in restaurants. Turks enjoy food, and the meal is a time for relaxing and engaging in some good conversation outside of business.
The protocol of Turkish hospitality is that the host always pays for the meal. The concept of sharing a bill is completely alien to them. You may try and offer to pay to be polite, but you will likely not be allowed to do so. The best policy is graciously to thank the host, then a few days later invite the host to dinner at a restaurant of your choice and inform the restaurant manager that they are not to accept payment from your guests.
Evening meals may be accompanied by some alcohol, however since many Turks don’t drink be sure to let your host be the guide on this. Tea or Turkish coffee is served at the end of a meal, sometimes with pastries. Turkish coffee is a national drink and should at least be sampled.
If you visit a mosque, never enter with your shoes on. There is always a rack where shoes can be kept. Make sure your feet are clean and will not bring in dust or mud. Men should not wear shorts and must wear a shirt or t-shirt. Women should be covered fully, especially their hair. If you do not have a scarf, ask an attendant as some are usually put aside for foreign visitors.
Do’s and Taboos for Turkey
5 Key Conversation Topics or Cultural Gesture Tips
- Asking about family is good if it’s not prying. Questions about children is welcomed.
- The Turks are proud of their country and will enjoy answering questions on their culture and history, although it’s best to avoid political history.
- Turkey is a beautiful and most interesting country with many notable places of interest to visit, so be sure to ask about the things to see in your location – which the Turks will love to share pointers about.
- The marvelous seafood and cuisine is always a good topic of discussion.
- Most Turks love football (soccer), and will enthusiastically discuss their favorite team
5 Key Conversation Topics or Cultural Gesture Taboos
- Outside the big cities, especially in the East of Turkey, both women and men should avoid wearing shorts and sleeveless tops due to the adherence to Islamic values.
- When seated opposite someone, don’t sit with your legs apart, or cross your legs where the sole of your shoe is pointed at someone because this is considered an insult.
- Avoid giving opinions over sensitive issues involving Turkey, especially Turk-Kurdish relations and current issues with the EU.
- Turkey has had a turbulent political history which may be best left in the past. Avoid this topic unless they bring it up first, and then listen rather than give opinions.
- Since Turkey is primarily a Muslim country, before suggesting alcoholic drinks with someone be sure that they drink.
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The CROSS of Cross-Cultural
Cultural Tips for Countries from A to Z
Cultural Tips for Turkey – including some valuable business travel tips for Turkey
This article on cultural differences in Turkey and cultural travel tips for Turkey is a brief snapshot of conversation guidelines for Turkey, tips for communicating in Turkey, and business strategies for Turkey to help with understanding the culture in Turkey. It’s important to keep in mind that as we homogenize as a ‘global culture,’ cultural tendencies change and evolve as well. Awareness is the first step when it comes to cultural do’s and taboos for Turkey and tips for intercultural communication!
It’s easy for business travelers to think that even when they travel, business is going to be done pretty much the same way it is at home. But that’s not always the case. Cultural differences can have a significant impact on global business etiquette. That’s why it’s important for business travelers to make sure that they understand the culture of the country that they’re doing business in.
Emmy Award Winner, Gayle Cotton, is the author of this blog and of the bestselling cross-cultural communication book ‘SAY Anything to Anyone, Anywhere! 5 Keys to Successful Cross-Cultural Communication’, which is available on Amazon as a Book, eBook, or Audio Book. She is President of Circles Of Excellence Inc. and a Professional Keynote Speaker. Contact Gayle if you need professional speakers for events, speakers on cultural diversity, conference speakers for events, or keynote speakers that specialize in cross-cultural training. She is a leader in the field of public speakers, motivational speakers, and international keynote speakers. She is among the best of female keynote speakers and women motivational speakers and is a ‘first choice’ request for international audiences!
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