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Doing Business in Bulgaria

Business Etiquette bulgariaBefore visiting a foreign country for business a quick brush up on how to doing business in terms of etiquette and protocol is a good idea. This guide to doing business in Bulgaria briefly summarises some tips with regards to meeting & greeting, communication styles and business meetings.


Meeting & Greeting

Bulgaria on the face of it is still a fairly formal society. This reflects in the rather proper and reserved nature of initial meetings. Within the business context a firm handshake, direct eye contact and the appropriate greeting for the time of day suffices. The hierarchical nature of Bulgarians results in an emphasis on rank and position. As a result if people have official, educational or work titles ensure you use them. If you are unsure then simply use "Gospodin" (Mr)/ "Gospozha" (Mrs) followed by the surname.

Only friends and family address each other with first names. It is good etiquette to wait for their Bulgarian counterparts to determine when it is appropriate to become this informal.

The normal custom is for business cards to be exchanged on initial meetings but there is little protocol to follow. As a basic courtesy do not write on the card or treat it nonchalantly. If your company/firm has been established a long time (25-50 years) it is a good idea to include the founding date on the card as this gives credibility. Also add any academic qualifications to the card. Translating cards into Bulgarian may not always be a necessity but it would certainly impress recipients.


Communication

Until a relationship warms up the communication will be reserved and cool. However, once the other person as an individual rather than a foreigner, they will slowly become less formal and more relaxed.

Bulgarians generally have an indirect communication style when dealing with people whom they do not know well. They will offer roundabout explanations rather than offer a negative response; they prefer a non-confrontational way of doing business. 

Business decisions are often heavily influenced by personal sentiments. It is therefore a good idea to invest time in relationship building. This helps overcome the initial communication barrier as well as increase chances of business success.

Many Bulgarians believe that speaking forcefully indicates that the person is overcompensating for the fact that they have nothing important to say. Anyone with a booming voice may want to consider paying attention to their tone.

Business Meetings

Meetings are formal and do follow certain etiquette and customs. The normal protocol is for the most senior Bulgarian to open the meeting with an introduction or statement and to then chair the proceedings.

Although a hierarchical culture where important decisions are made at the top of the company, Bulgarians seek to have a consensus of all stakeholders before reaching a final decision. Therefore, meetings can be extremely protracted since everyone must have the opportunity to present their case.

Any presentations should be factual and backed with statistics. If possible try to present information visually. Bulgarians do not appreciate too much "talk" so avoid over zealous statements. Bulgarians are not deadline oriented. They prefer to ensure they have comprehensively covered a topic before bringing proceedings to a close.
Be patient and do not rush meetings - successful ventures in Bulgaria will never happen overnight.

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