Apart from a few large international companies with a presence in the country, much of the business in Turkey is conducted between relatively small companies, making personal relationships very important and an understanding of business culture key. Many companies are family-run and most are hierarchical in nature, and you may also notice some social class distinctions between the staff and management levels. Although final decisions are typically made by the head of the company, the decision-making process can be slow as ideas have to be presented and approved at several levels before the management will consider them.
In Turkey, management tends to be more autocratic than in some countries. Once decisions have been made, managers will tell their staff what to do and expect it to be done. Roles are very distinct within Turkish businesses and successful managers reinforce these positions to maintain their authority. Subordinate staff members are sometimes expected to stand when senior managers enter the room to show their respect in the same way that schoolchildren show their respect for a teacher. Changes are typically introduced slowly and with considerable planning.
From the outside, Turkish business culture can appear quite liberal and relaxed. However, many people in Turkey are more traditional than they initially let on, so even if the situation appears informal it’s best to maintain a degree of professional formality to begin with. Be courteous and demonstrate good manners at all times; try to respect the status of the people you meet. Use titles and surnames until your Turkish contacts decide your relationship has progressed to first names.
Turks typically prefer to work with people they know, so relationship building is crucial to doing business. At least one meeting should be dedicated entirely to getting to know each other. Relationships can be forged both within the workplace and outside in various social settings, so going out for coffee or a leisurely meal may be a good idea. Once a relationship is established, you will find that communication becomes much more direct and constructive.
Business dress in Turkey is largely formal, with men expected to wear a suit and tie and women similarly smart and professional-looking attire. At the hottest times of year, it may be acceptable for men to dispense with their suit jacket and tie, but shorts are not considered appropriate. Women should ensure that their arms and legs are covered and their clothing is modest and not revealing. Be aware that the dress code in cities can be more relaxed than in more rural areas, and that eastern Turkey is generally more conservative.
A firm handshake is the standard business greeting in Turkey, and the most senior people are always greeted first. Some women prefer not to shake hands with men, so if a woman does not offer her hand first then simply make a verbal greeting instead. In general though, personal space is less important to Turkish people than most westerners – if you find yourself a little crowded then try not to back away as this may cause offence.
With relationships this significant, diaries can get very full so appointments are necessary in Turkey. Try to give at least a couple of weeks’ notice and confirm the time just before. However, don’t be surprised if you still find yourself waiting as punctuality is not always considered important.
Business meetings in Turkey often take place in less formal environments such as restaurants rather than in the office, but it is important that you read the situation and maintain the correct level of formality. That said, small talk is common, with sport and football in particular a popular topic. You could also ask about your contacts’ family or Turkish culture in general, but steer clear of politics. Once you get on to business, make sure that any proposal or presentation is clear and well-argued, and make use of visual aids where possible. Turks are renowned as tough negotiators who will start at extremes to gauge your response. High-pressure tactics are to be avoided as many people will turn these around on you, so be patient and never try to rush anyone into a decision. Business cards may be exchanged during a meeting, but some Turks will choose not to offer you a card until they are sure that they want to work with you.
Although employment law promotes equal opportunities, many women in Turkey choose not to work and the business world in Turkey can appear rather male dominated. As a result, visiting foreign businesswomen may feel slightly isolated. However, don’t mistake the relatively small number of women for a discriminatory culture – women in Turkey quite easily command the same level of respect as their male counterparts.
Although English is quite widely spoken as a second language, Turkish is the main language used in smaller businesses and it is important to check whether translation is required for meetings or documentation.