Learning the Business Customs of Switzerland

Switzerland is a country that is well-known for business. Those who visit or decide to move to this country will often do so for business reasons. Switzerland is a country of many expats, as over one-fifth of the population is foreign.

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When you go to a meeting, you should dress formally and conservatively. Avoid wearing very flashy jewelery or other fancy accessories. For the Swiss themselves, it is common for high-ranking officials to dress very formally, while people at the low end of the company may be dressed in jeans. Arrive punctually to engagements, not early or late, or else you will look sloppy. Being even a few minutes late to a meeting looks bad.

Swiss culture is quite formal in many spheres, especially among older populations. When you enter a room, you should shake hands with everyone there. You should also address everyone by their title and surname unless specifically invited to address them by their first name. Of course take note of what region you are in, so that you address people in the correct language. Sometimes even friends or close colleagues will address one another by their formal names. This custom is slowly changing, however, as more multinationals are entering Switzerland; it is safer to err on the formal side when in older, more traditional crowds.

Small talk is not expected before discussing business matters. The Swiss are generally private people, and do not care to share information about their personal lives. Avoid asking questions about marital status, religion or age. Unless people seem very comfortable with you, you should avoid joking or being sarcastic with people you do not know well.

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Swiss business follows a hierarchy, and lines of authority are seldom crossed. Decision-making is reserved only for high-ranking people in the company, even if everyone else objects.

During negotiations, it is a wise idea to be reserved and confident. You should not be pushy or try to sell anything with high-pressure tactics. Decisions are only made after being carefully researched, examined and discussed, so you should not try to rush anything. You should appear to be responsible and honest in order to convince people.

Finally, you should know that Switzerland is not a homogeneous culture. Different places have different languages, history and customs. What proves to be acceptable in one region may not be so in another.

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