Business Negotiations in Russia - be prepared for some vodka hospitality
Russia has for the most part being spared from the economic crisis that has hit most of the western world, so it's a great place to head off to if you want to do some business. The only snag is that you better be able to hold your vodka if you want to get anywhere.
Crisis, what crisis?
The economy and the world banks may be on their knees in the western world, but Russia is enjoying a steady period of growth by comparison. The wild west style days of the early 90s are long gone and Russia, and Moscow in particular, is a place focussed on moving forward as quickly as possible.
Russia is then an increasingly prosperous and dynamic country where communism is now nothing but a distant memory, but some old traditions definitely die hard. If you head there looking to do business, you really better work on more than just your negotiating techniques before you get here. If you can't handle your drink, you may as well not bother getting on the plane.
Forget all that you have learned over the years about negotiations before you go to Russia. The formal style of sit down, serious meetings just won't wash over there. Russians are certainly a very serious people in general, but it when it comes to business and striking a deal, expect sweets and shot glasses to appear rather than coffee and jugs of water. The topic of conversation might also be a bit of surprise to you. In the past you may have considered it good practice not to take your personal life into a business meeting. Think again, if you don't open up here about yourself and your life, nobody will trust you and they probably won't even bother to crack open the bottle of vodka.
The moment of truth
If you manage to connect with the Russians as they hope you will, it is almost guaranteed that the vodka will be brought out before any contracts are signed. Here is where you pre-negotiation practice really comes in. If you fail to down at least three shots, your new friends aren't going to want to know. Not only do you need to work your way steadily through those three shots (vomiting will automatically send you back to the airport), but you also have to know how to correctly toast your new business partners.
Russian don't want to drink to world peace or generic things such as good health. You need to keep things personal when you raise a glass. Drink to your new friendship, or to their great country, and always make a point of mentioning women. It may be quite a rarity to see a female in the boardroom in Russia but they are still highly respectful and appreciative of the finer sex, especially when drinking!
The bottom line
One thing that it is incredibly easy to forget when negotiating in Russia is that if nothing is signed at the end of your meeting then you may as well not have had the negotiations in the first place. This minor detail can be often overlooked in an age where contracts and the finer details are often thrashed out after negotiations are done by the emailing or faxing of documents, but in Russia paper is still king. Go full throttle, drink for drink with your hosts on the vodka, but always remember that all you are doing is getting drunk if you've not managed to get their signature down before the singing starts.
Udacha (good luck)!
By Simon Cow. Simon is a British writer and content developer for Baltic Travel Company - helping to organise your trip to Russia.