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Business Etiquettes in Estonia

Estonians mean what they say and do what they say they will do. They expect foreign businesspeople to keep their word. Failing to do so can cause irreparable harm to a business relationship. They are generally polite and courteous speakers.

Estonians are somewhat pragmatic and reserved, especially in the early stages of developing a business relationship.

Estonians are not emotive speakers. If you are from a culture where hand gestures are robust, you may wish to moderate them to conform to local practices. Soft voices are the norm. If you have a booming voice, you may wish to moderate it when conducting business with Estonians.

Estonians do not always respond to what has been said, especially if they are uncomfortable with the subject or if they need more time to organise their thoughts. Although they are direct communicators, Estonians temper their directness in order to protect the feelings of all concerned. They are slow to pay compliments and may become suspicious of compliments offered too readily and without sufficient reason.

Passive silence is very much part of the communication style. Estonians are not fond of conversational overlap and will not think highly of someone who interrupts them while they are speaking.

Estonians value their good reputations. Therefore, be careful not to criticise or embarrass anyone publicly.

Meeting & Greeting

Estonians are quite formal and may not come across as quote cold or even friendly to people from more informal cultures. This should not be interpreted so. Once the relationship warms up the communication style becomes a lot less stiff.

Shake hands with everyone at the meeting. Remember it is rude to greet someone while seated. Handshakes should be firm and confident. Maintain steady eye contact while shaking hands. Try and wait for a woman to extend her hand.

Address businesspeople by their professional title and their surname. If someone does not have a professional title, use "Härra" to address a man and "Prova" to address a woman. Wait until invited before moving to a first name basis.

Business Meetings

Meetings generally begin with a welcoming speech from the most senior Estonian at the meeting. The most senior person from your team should respond with a short speech.

It is common to continue meetings over lunch or dinner, although the conversation will tend to be social, rather than business oriented. These seemingly social occasions are an opportunity for your Estonian colleagues to get to know you as an individual and develop a personal relationship. Since this is a culture that prefers to do business with friends, consider time spent at meals as important as time spent at the negotiating table. Although Estonians place business and social situations side by side, it is important to maintain a formal demeanour at meetings.

Estonians dislike an overly casual attitude towards business, especially from foreigners.

It generally takes several meetings to reach a decision. In most cases, decisions are still made at the top of the company, so unless you are meeting with the top echelon of the company, what you propose will have to make its way up the chain of command for approval.

Older businesspeople are generally only fluent in Estonian or Russian. Therefore, you may wish to have an interpreter with you at meetings.

Business Cards

Business cards are exchanged without any fuss or ritual. Present your business card so it is readable to the recipient. Treat someone's business card with respect. Having the other side of your card translated into Estonian is a nice gesture.





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