Turkey's economy is among the most quickly developing economies in the world. Thus, the country presents numerous opportunities for foreign entrepreneurs and is an attractive market with high potential for cooperation. However, Turkey has also many distinct and specific rules that have to be followed by Turkish entrepreneurs. It is worth learning about them before starting to establish business relationships.
Even though most of the Turkish territory is located in Asia, some part of it belongs to Europe; therefore, intercultural differences are not always visible at the first glance. Despite the fact that Turkish entrepreneurs are very open to the European style of conducting business, certain differences in the mentality and interpersonal relations can be noticed. One should be aware of the signals sent as they may affect not only the quality of relations, but also the subsequent success or failure of negotiations.
Turkish businessmen frequently make decisions based on a number of factors which are often unrelated to business itself, such as first impression. A simple misunderstanding may jeopardise the talks, therefore it is so important to build a proper image, based on the respect for local culture, identity and religion. It should be emphasised at the very onset that the observance of hierarchy in Turkey is essential both during future meetings and in correspondence.
Turkey is a Muslim country, in which Muslims constitute 98% of the society. Therefore, according to the religion, wisdom is gained with age, which means that in more conservative communities most important decisions will be taken by the elders. It is definitely important to get an understanding of the structure of a given company and learn how to pronounce the names of counterparties and memorise their titles, which is a sign of due respect. It would also be a good idea to translate the essential documents into Turkish, so that everyone can view their content on an equal level.
While planning meetings with Turkish partners, one should take into account the limitations resulting from the Muslim religious festivals, especially Ramadan or the Feast of the Sacrifice (Kurban Bayrami). These festivals are movable, therefore it is worth making sure when they are celebrated in a given year.
Various types of greetings
Usually, the Turks are not punctual, but they expect their guests to arrive on time, hence you should not be late and you should be patient. If for some reason you are running late for a meeting, you should call your counterparty to inform them about the situation.
Even though many Turkish entrepreneurs are fluent in English, learning several phrases in the local language is considered good manners. Such gesture will surely win business partners over and will make them grow fond of you. Thus, while greeting someone, it is good to say "Hoş geldiniz”, which means "it is nice to see you". You will most likely hear the response: „Hoş bulduk”, which translates into "the pleasure is all ours".
Greeting someone should be accompanied by right hand shake; the handshake should be exchanged with all participants to the meeting, beginning with the eldest person. Omission of that gesture may be perceived as a display of hostility. For religious reasons, while greeting a woman, you should wait for her to initiate the handshake. Sometimes, Turkish entrepreneurs greet their business partner with a kiss on the cheek. Such greeting, however, usually takes place only when the relationship is fairly established - that is, for example, at the third meeting. Women can also be greeted that way, unless they represent conservative rules of Islam. Therefore, one should be cautious when a woman wearing a hijab or chador is present at the meeting.
Choosing dress code
Out of respect for the religion, while establishing relationships with Turkish entrepreneurs, one should adjust the dress code to the principles of Islam. Conservative clothing is, therefore, the best option. Women should not expose their arms or cleavage, and should not wear skirts of above knee length. Where appropriate, covering hair and neck with a shawl is considered good manners. Neutral business colours, such as gray or navy, will be a good choice. The latter will also work very well in male dress code.
How to give gifts?
Even though gift exchange is not as important as it is in the Asian culture, it is worth bringing presents. If you decide to do so, the gift should not be personal or expensive as it might be misinterpreted and for example considered a form of bribery, or a mixed signal, if the gift is offered to a woman. Before you know well the preferences of our contractors, the safest option is to gift a man with an office item and a woman - with a piece of ceramics or an elegant shawl. You should make sure, however, that the item does not come from swine - an animal which Muslims consider to be impure. One should also refrain from offering alcohol as a gift as Islam forbids its consumption.
How to conduct negotiations?
Due to the fact that first business meetings usually serve the purpose of getting to know each other and socialising with the counterparties, you should not get down to business straight away, as it may be considered inappropriate. Also, you should not be surprised if your counterparty asks you about personal life. The Turks like to talk about their families and hobbies, which frequently becomes the subject of small talk. Careful listening as well as politeness and patience in the matter may be the key to success.
At further meetings, however, you will find out that the Turks are tough negotiators. They are insightful and analyse the potential gains at length. Successful negotiations, however, must rely on mutual trust. Your should not exert pressure on your counterparties nor you should set down any deadlines. The result of rushing our partners from Turkey may be opposite to what was intended. Thus, you should be aware that the talks may require even several meetings as the Turks need more time for consideration than the Europeans.
Being invited to a restaurant after the end of the meeting is a good sign. The Turkish people like to eat and celebrate their meals. They are also proud of their cuisine, therefore you should taste the local dishes, drink some of their famous Turkish coffee or tea and try the Turkish confectionery. You should not be surprised by their liking to smoke tobacco during meals either.
Body language - what to look at?
It is worth paying attention to head gestures. In Turkey "no" is expressed by slightly raising the head, tilting it backwards and closing the eyes. In the Muslim culture, the European "OK" gesture, made by touching the thumb with the index finger is an offensive gesture. Eye contact, which helps to build trust, is important in this country. As it proves serious interest in cooperation, we should observe how carefully the Turks are watching us.
You should not be surprised either when a Turkish partner stands very close to you during a conversation, because the Turks may have different concept of personal space. While you are sitting, you should avoid gestures which will point to the sole of your shoe facing someone. Also, you should not stand with your hands in your pockets. It is considered impolite. Men should also be careful not to rub their chin while looking at a woman. She may think that they are interested in her in an unbusinesslike way.