Doing business in Cyprus
Cyprus is a market where referrals, recommendations and testimonials are extremely useful. If you do not have such connections, address your letter to the owner of a small company or to the Chairman or Managing Director of a larger firm. It is a good idea to phone the executive's secretary before writing to get the correct name and exact title of the addressee.
Trade shows, trade missions and introductions through a bank are good ways to get in touch with potential customers and partners. Write in English with basic information about your company and your product, adding that you will contact them soon to set up an appointment. Follow this with a phone call requesting a meeting two or three weeks hence. Your Cypriot counterpart will suggest the time and place.
Getting down to business
Cypriots usually want to chat with a new business contact at some length before getting down to business. Visitors are well advised to wait for their local counterpart to initiate the business part of the meeting.
Asian, Latin and Arab negotiators find it quite normal that the Cypriot need to get to know their overseas counterparts a bit before talking business. In contrast, many Germans, Swiss, Danes and Americans become impatient and irritated with what they regard as unnecessarily long preliminary conversations.
Orientation to time
The pace of business life in Nicosia is somewhat leisurely. And while visitors are expected to be on time, locals are often a few minutes late for meetings. Still, the Cypriot are more clock-oriented compared with most Latins, Arabs and Africans as well as the majority of South and Southeast Asians.
Formality, hierarchies and status differences
Status in Cyprus is largely determined by one's social class and family background. The existence of status distinctions explains the formality in social interaction. While Americans for example like to switch almost immediately to the use of given names in business meetings, the Cypriot usually prefer to stay with Mr or Mrs until at least the second or third meeting.
That said, visitors find that younger Cypriot business people are becoming less formal. As elsewhere, the rapidly growing use of electronic mail acts to informalize the communication process.
Understanding communication differences
The art and science of international communication is crucial to business success, whether it is by pen, spoken or non-verbal messages.
Keeping communication formal should create the best level of comfort. This means referring to individuals using their titles and honorifics in both written and spoken communication, unless and only until one is instructed to use first names. Also, "for business communication, it is better to replace the words 'I feel' with 'I think'. Also avoid slang and jargon because it often does not translate.
Cypriot negotiators rarely interrupt their counterparts across the bargaining table. They are also less likely to raise their voice than are negotiators from more expressive societies such as those in southern Europe and Latin America.
Nonverbal communication: Body language
When meeting and greeting, a light handshake is common. The Cypriots normally shake hands with colleagues upon meeting in the morning and again when leaving the office, as is common practice in Continental cultures.
The normal interpersonal distance in a business context is about an arm's length. The Cypriots tend to stand and sit further apart than the Arabs and Latins. Moreover, two Cypriots in conversation will often stand at a 90-degree angle to each other rather than facing each other directly as two Italians or two Arabs usually do. Face-to-face conversation seems to make some Cypriots uncomfortable.
Eye contact tends to be less direct than in expressive cultures such as the Italians, the Greeks and the Brazilians. A very direct gaze may be interpreted as rude and intrusive.
This is a low-contact culture. Except for the handshake, most Cypriot people avoid touching others in public. For example, the American custom of back-slapping, elbow-grabbing and arm-around-the-shoulder is considered slightly vulgar.
Making a presentation
Accustomed to understatement, Cypriot buyers are turned off by hype and exaggerated claims. Presentations should be straight-forward and factual. Humor is acceptable, but visitors from abroad should remember that it rarely translates well. The safest humor in Cyprus is of the self-deprecatory variety.
Cypriot negotiators have been doing business all over the world for hundreds of years. They may put a wide safety margin in their opening position so as to leave room for substantial concessions during the bargaining process. This practice may put off negotiators from Germany and Sweden, where this 'high-low' tactic is frowned upon.
"Time is money" Americans may find the Cypriot process too time-consuming, but for the rest of the world's business cultures it is quite normal.
Role of the contract
Expect emphasis on the legal aspects and the fine points of the written agreement. Should a dispute or disagreement arise later the Cypriots tend to rely on the terms of the contract and could become suspicious if their counterpart invokes non-contract issues such as the importance of the long-term relationship.
This is not a gift-giving culture. A better idea is to invite your counterparts to dinner.
If invited to a Cypriot home, bring chocolates, liquor, champagne or flowers. Avoid white lilies (only for funerals) and red roses (unless you wish to signal a romantic interest). Be sure to send along a handwritten thank-you note the next day. During the meal keep both hands on the table but both elbows off the table.