Latvians take a formal approach to business.
Note however there are differences in style between older workers who maintain formality and the younger generation who willingly dispense with formality.
Shake hands with everyone at a meeting.
Maintain steady eye contact while shaking hands.
Shake hands at the beginning and end of meetings.
Titles are important. If someone does not have a professional or academic title, use the honorific titles "Kungs" to address a man and "Kundze" to address a woman.
People are generally introduced by both their first and surname.
Wait until invited before moving to a first name basis.
Business cards are exchanged after the initial introductions.
To have one side of your card translated into Latvian is a nice touch.
The Latvian Communication Style
Latvians are polite and courteous. They can be extremely reserved. They do not readily smile, especially at strangers, and are not comfortable making small talk. They often appear to have little difficulty accepting what would be considered awkward silences in other cultures. This behaviour can make them seem austere. Once a relationship has developed though, some of the veneer will disappear. Personal matters are seldom touched upon in business.
Latvians are not especially emotive speakers. If you are from a culture where hand gestures are robust, you may wish to moderate them to conform to local practices. At the same time, they can be extremely direct speakers and task focused. Soft voices are expected. If you have a booming voice, you may wish to moderate it when conducting business with Latvians.
Latvians can be direct communicators, although they often temper their words to protect the feelings of the other person. As a group, they are slow to pay compliments and may become suspicious of compliments offered too readily and without sufficient reason.
Since good manners dictates that you do not publicly embarrass another person, it is important not to criticize someone in a public venue. Even the hint that you are unhappy could cause irreparable harm to your personal relationship.
Latvia is a low context communication culture. They do not require a great deal of background information and may become irritated if you attempt to explain too much. When asking questions, strive to be specific and ensure that the question is germane to the subject at hand. Do not ask questions for the sake of asking them.
Meetings often begin with a welcoming speech from the most senior Latvian at the meeting. If this occurs, the most senior person from your team should respond with a short speech.
Latvian businesses are extremely hierarchical. Decisions are made at the top of the company and information flows downward like a funnel. It is important to make initial introductions as far up the hierarchy as possible. Unless you are the CEO, it may be impossible to meet with the actual decision maker for your first meeting. You and your company will have to be evaluated by lower level staff and, if you are deemed a good potential business partner, you will be invited to a subsequent meeting with the next highest level.
It is common to continue meetings over lunch or dinner, although the conversation will tend to be social- rather than business-oriented. Use these occasions are a chance for you to get to know your Latvian colleagues and for them to get to know you as an individual.
Latvian meetings are formal affairs. Latvians take business quite seriously and expect others to do the same. Appearing too relaxed or informal, even after a night’s drinking, could hurt your professional reputation.
It generally takes several meetings to reach a decision. In most cases, decisions are still made at the top of the company, so unless you are meeting with the top echelon of the company, what you propose will have to make its way up the chain of command for approval.
Since they do not want to appear foolish in public and are reserved, Latvians prefer not to speak up in meetings with people they do not know well. Therefore, if you are attempting to reach a consensus on a technical matter, you may wish to start with a lower echelon, having people of similar status speaking to each other. In such cases, it may be helpful to provide detailed written explanations, take your colleagues to lunch, and suggest reconvening in a few days. The meal may create a feeling of camaraderie and being able to review documents in private will allow your Latvian colleagues to discuss among themselves before meeting. Once you have convinced the technical staff of the benefits of your proposal, they will help you move up through the company’s chain of command.