Kiss Your Clients? Perhaps They Expect It

How does a lawyer properly greet a client? With a handshake…or perhaps a kiss? Well, it depends. To use the title of one book, lawyers working across cultures need to be savvy enough to know whether to Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands when greeting someone.

And yet many lawyers working across cultures know how difficult–and potentially uncomfortable– it can be to greet a client properly. Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal explored this topic in Americans Learn the Global Art of the Cheek Kiss. As the article discusses, choosing the right form of greeting–such as determining whether to kiss once, twice or thrice– can be most complex.

For example, let’s imagine that you, an American lawyer, are meeting a foreign client in a third country which is not native to either of you. Your client may prefer to greet you with his or her native greeting, or opt for yours, or perhaps choose another greeting entirely–such whichever greeting is favored by the local country.  Confusing.

Just yesterday I faced this issue when I greeted another international lawyer.  Although we were Americans and were lunching in America, we spontaneously greeted each other with a continental style air kiss–and we actually laughed about whether to make it a single or double.  Later, when I ran across the WSJ article, I mulled over my earlier encounter and why we–both being Americans–hadn’t opted for the traditional American-style business handshake.  I concluded that because we always meet at international business events, we think of each other in an international context. This influenced which greeting we chose.

The WSJ article advises that the more senior party of the pair should determine the style of greeting.  This means that the junior person should remain alert to clues (an outstretched hand etc…) about which form of greeting to anticipate.

In my opinion, gender also plays a role. In cross cultural situations, I’ve watched many businessmen–even those senior to me–wait for me, as a female, to initiate the form greeting.  Perhaps this is done as a courtesy, or out of a desire not to offend.

So, do your clients expect you to kiss them? Increasingly so, according to the Wall Street Journal, as continental manners spread across the globe. All the more reason to ramp up your cultural intelligence and tune in–from the moment of greeting on–to your clients’ wishes.

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