Meeting styles in Ireland

Written by Adnaan Rasoelbaks, Gabriele Lamarck Silveira and Giovanny Alexander Croes January 2014. Posted in Int. Skills, Meeting styles

Meeting styles in Ireland

As the Irish tend to be relationship-driven, do not be surprised when they ask you to conduct a meeting in a restaurant or pub. When doing business with the Irish, you will have the privilege of experiencing the best of both worlds. It is not advised to schedule meetings in the morning, due to traffic congestions which may hinder the participants from attending the meeting on time (Business Culture, 2013). Most businesses in Ireland operate from Monday to Friday, 09:00 am to 05:30 pm, with one hour for lunch. So, it is likely that meetings will be conducted between 1:00 and 2:00 pm. Business meetings held in restaurants or pubs are quite common in Ireland as the atmosphere is less formal and allows people to socialize as well.
The Irish do not really follow an agenda, even in cases where there is an agenda, it will not be strictly adhered to during the meeting (Trompenaars, 2013). In general, meetings are seen as discussion forums rather than conventions where decisions are expected to be made. It is fairly easy to arrange meetings at all management levels within a company though they should be arranged a couple of weeks in advance. Make sure that materials such as the agenda, a list of participants, and any other important material is send ahead of the meeting.
Meetings should be informal, friendly and most definitely relaxed. The role of the chairman is to aid the discussion and to recognize all participants to provide them the opportunity to speak up. “The chairperson should have a feeling from the participants what they are going to discuss, to determine how the meeting will go. Before the meeting they will have tested the water. So, within the meeting there is more chance it will go smoothly” (Lewis, 11 October 2013). Participants are expected to participate, but they do not necessarily have to add anything to the meeting. Meetings are relatively flexible when it comes to timekeeping. They do not exactly start on time as the Irish tend to “open” a meeting with small talk and a cup of coffee. In addition, unscheduled topics relevant to the meeting might even get aired by the chairman, which may cause the meeting to run over time (Trompenaars, 2013).
The exchange of business cards happens casually, with no ceremonial or ritual custom, and they could be either exchanged at the beginning or the end of the meeting According to Lewis, business cards are not that important, as the Irish see it as something impersonal. They would rather get your number in their phone instead of having your business card ( Lewis, 11 October 2013).
After the meeting, the minutes should be distributed to all participants for validation and confirmation of agreements and responsibilities that have been discussed. Signing the minutes is important to strengthen the commitment of both parties (Katz, 2007).
Presentations should be brief and straightforward and the Irish expect the presentation to be built on facts and evidence. Displaying emotions or bragging is not encouraged, because it might be viewed as a bit suspicious. Time for questions or comments will take place after the presentation has been given. The Irish will usually take a moment to process the information, before asking questions or commenting on the presentation.

Seating Arrangements
There are, in general, no particular seating arrangements in business meetings. Nevertheless, you should wait for the host to tell you where to sit. Especially, when a meeting will take place in a restaurant, women will receive preferential treatment when it comes to the “seating” etiquette, as they should sit first.
Seniority and ascribed status play and insignificant role in this society as people view each other as equals. Normally, the chairman or those who are higher in rank are respected and get to speak first. But after that, there is no sequence determining who gets to speak first (Trompenaars, 2013).

Convincing Strategies
The Irish value passionate and enjoyable discussions and like to debate for the sake of socializing and building rapport (Peterson, 2010). Irish people are seen as rational and associate thinkers and tend to use a lot of reasoning power in their argumentation. The introduction of ideas and concepts are always criticized and challenged and require, therefore, convincing arguments to impress. This process is considered to be greater than the outcome of the whole discussion. As soon as consensus has been reached, finalizing the decision will take quite some time. This is caused by unpredictable situations which may occur at a future stage that require reconsideration of the agreement, which had initially been substantiated by consensus. The Irish are relatively direct in their communication style, in which they always try to simplify complexities. Modesty is appreciated and praised, unlike bragging and boasting. They are attentive, polite and are reserved in their judgment.
The Irish reasoning style can be described as “arrive at the conclusion all at once”, as is represented by the figure above. Through the use of multiple debates, the Irish try to use creative and convincing arguments to convince each other. These debates may be long and protracted and time is not considered an issue. During initial debates, decisions are not likely to be taken and subsequent meetings are necessary to arrive at a final decision. Showing emotions is seen as being unprofessional. The Irish will only express their true emotions outside the office, at informal occasions, such as a pub, where they will usually go for lunch. Once, they return to the meeting, neutral behaviour is assumed and participants will have a better picture of what others really want (Trompenaars, 2013). Moreover, the Irish prefer to avoid direct confrontation. So, this implies that disagreement is “okay” and common. In conclusion, people generally, do not engage in personal conflicts because everyone has a say in the final decision.

Information sharing
As mentioned earlier, the Irish emphasize personal relationships, whether it is in the office or in a pub. According to Trompenaars (2013), the Irish would, generally, not proceed to do business, if they do not feel comfortable with your presence. They Irish do not only value evidence, persuasion, and using a sense of poetry, but they also prefer to be relatively direct yet non-confrontational in their approach. The Irish are, therefore, generally well capable of maintaining harmony in meetings. So, the Irish use a hybrid of both high- as well as low-context communication (University of the Pacific, 2013). Non-verbal communication, like making gestures and using body language, are animated but not exaggerated. Although, meetings are characterized by free expression and lively argumentations, one should note that not letting others speak and interrupting to ask questions can be seen as impolite and inattentive to do (Business Culture, 2013).
According to Katz (2007), there are two different styles of decision-making in Ireland: one where decisions are made by the topic level and another where cooperation between levels forms part of the decision making process. Family-owned companies in particular, tend to have a status-like organisational structure, where the key decision maker is at the top. In such companies, decisions can be made quite fast. In contrast, the decision making process in many other companies relies on the cooperation between multiple levels in the organisation. As a consequence, the decision making process may take a bit more time. The flow of information inside larger companies is based on hierarchy as they are bureaucratic in their approach to direct information to those who want to access it. However, in a more flattened organisational structure, communication is more transparent and information is easier to access. Moreover, decisions are reached by the collective, so information in meetings is usually shared between all participants.
As an outsider, it is advised to work through an intermediary with good connections, to help you by giving insight and to help you build relationships. Especially, when it comes to sensitive information, the Irish should have a feeling that they can trust you.
Building and maintaining relationships is essential for the success of your business in Ireland. Katz (2007) points out, that Irish business partners do not only want to do and talk business with you, but they also want to get to know you as a person, to determine whether they can trust you and establish a relationship. So, meetings usually start with small talk to get to know one another.
In importance of the relationship, you should not talk about politics related to Northern Ireland. Joking about the Irish will not be gladly received, specifically when it comes to religion or topics related to religion, such as abortion. This is also true for ethnicity in Ireland and do not ever confuse them with the English or Scots. The Irish prefer not to talk about their personal life or problems, unless you are a close friend or relative, someone they can trust. In addition, talking about feelings or beliefs is also not done, in order to avoid the disruption of harmony.