KNOWLEDGE BASE Ireland Business Etiquette & Culture
The information on this page was current at the time it was published. Regulations, trends, statistics, and other information are constantly changing. While we strive to update our Knowledge Base, we strongly suggest you use these pages as a general guide and be sure to verify any regulations, statistics, guidelines, or other information that are important to your efforts.
Business Etiquette and Culture in Ireland
There are many reasons to consider doing business in Ireland or even locating your business there. The labor force is English-speaking skilled, flexible, and diverse, the corporate tax rate is low, and the rest of the EU is readily accessible from Ireland.
If you are considering doing business with the Irish, it behooves you to understand Ireland’s business culture before you get started. We’ve put together some important tips and insights on how the Irish do business, what to expect, and how to work well with them.
The Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Northern Ireland
First - an important point to make before we go any further. The Republic of Ireland is NOT part of the United Kingdom, nor is it the same country as Northern Ireland (which is part of the United Kingdom). Don’t make the mistake of either lumping them together or using them interchangeably. To confuse the two is a sure way to start off on the wrong foot. In fact, it is advisable to avoid bringing up politics in general.
When greeting someone in Ireland, use a firm handshake and make direct eye contact. Comfortably maintain eye contact when speaking to your Irish associates. If you avoid eye contact, you will be perceived as untrustworthy.
When entering an office in Ireland, greet everyone you know, though you do not need to shake hands.
Business cards are exchanged in Ireland., They are exchanged rather casually as they are considered impersonal rather than an extension of the person to which they refer. They may be shared at the beginning or end of a meeting. If at the beginning, they could be exchanged during a bit of light conversation before the meeting starts.
You will find the Irish generally warm and polite. They are good conversationalists and enjoy sharing witty or philosophical stories. If you are able to do the same, all the better. The Irish enjoy making and telling jokes, which may be confusing to you as a foreigner. If the joke is aimed at you, have fun with it. Show that you also have a sense of humor, can take it in stride, and you may even playfully joke back.
Professional titles are not widely highlighted in Irish business culture and a big title will not automatically command the respect it does in some cultures. In fact, outside of prestigious academic institutions, people will generally not use their credentials to gain approval. It can be perceived as arrogant or boasting.
You may quickly move to a first name basis, but wait for your Irish counterpart to invite you to use their first name.
The Irish love a good debate. There are some subjects that are fair game and others that you should avoid. You are always safe with things such as sports, the weather, and hobbies. While you should never bring up religion or politics yourself, you can join in the conversation if your Irish counterparts do. Be prepared for strong opinions. If you are informed and sincere, you can also state your opinion.
The Irish will be watching you in order to judge if you are honest and without arrogance. It is best that you remain open, relaxed, and humble in your communications.
Irish business culture is generally conservative and the Irish are known for being modest. They are also known for having a good sense of humor. Jokes and teasing are a normal part of general conversation and can also extend into meetings to build rapport and avoid conflict. Take it in stride and keep in mind the spirit it is intended if directed at you.
When speaking with someone in Ireland, respect personal space and maintain an arm’s length distance. Besides a warm handshake, the Irish avoid physical contact and men should especially avoid being physically demonstrative with women.
The Irish use gestures very sparingly. Public displays of affection are uncommon in Ireland, especially in the business environment. While you may see a ‘good job’ slap on the back, you won’t find hugging, patting, or touching between men in public.
Time and Punctuality
There appears to be a bit of a dual standard when it comes to punctuality in Ireland. While expats should always plan to be on time for business or social engagements, they should also be prepared to allow for their Irish counterpart to be late, though it will generally not be more than 15 minutes or so. If you find that you are going to be late, call ahead to let them know when you expect to arrive. You should also be willing to postpone your meeting if you will be significantly late.
Decision making can be slow, as the Irish relaxed sense of time extends to negotiations. Plan for this up front so you don't show frustration. Delivery deadlines may also be impacted by the Irish relaxed attitude toward time, so build in some latitude to allow for dates to shift out. Do keep lines of communication open regarding the delivery schedule.
Networking and establishing a good rapport in Ireland are key, as relationships are very important to the Irish. Business is often based on whom a person knows, so make sure to build those relationships to succeed. Family and religion are top of the list for the Irish, more so than they are in many other Western countries. Keep in mind that family and relationships are as significant as the business itself is.
Because relationships are so important in Ireland, the best way to join an Irish network is to be introduced by people who are already in it. If you can, find a well-connected third party to introduce you. The Irish will generally buy from the Irish, so you will have to work hard to gain access to their networks and convince them that you can offer them something an Irish supplier cannot. If you’re considering expanding into Ireland, IDA Ireland is helpful for providing knowledge and helpful resources. Just as valuable are their introductions to business people you want to know.
Though not commonly spoken, Irish is the first and official language of Ireland. Business is almost always conducted in English, with the exception of the Gaeltacht regions of Ireland, though the people there are usually also proficient in English. You shouldn’t expect that the Irish will conduct business in any language other than English or the traditional Irish language. If your English isn’t very proficient, plan on getting the help of an interpreter.
As we mentioned earlier, building rapport is an important part of successfully doing business in Ireland. One of the ways the Irish do this is through casual, even humor-filled and harmless playful conversation at the beginning of meetings to break the ice. You will have to build up trust before any real negotiations will begin, at any rate. Therefore, opening small talk is incredibly important. Join in the fun.
Meetings tend to be informal, relaxed, and open. If there is an agenda, it very likely may not be strictly followed. Rather than a setting for making decisions, meetings are viewed as a place to carry out discussions. There is typically not a seating convention, so wait for your host to offer you a seat.
It is generally easy to arrange to meet with people at all levels of an organization. That being said, make sure you are meeting with key decision makers, so your time isn’t wasted. Most Irish executives are approachable and willing to meet to discuss business, though you may have to get through a number of gatekeepers first.
A common recommendation is to avoid early morning meetings since traffic can cause people to be late. Lunch meetings are generally good. It’s not unusual to conduct meetings outside of the office, sometimes even over a pint of Guinness at the local pub. Business may even take place on the golf course. Initial meetings for a cup of coffee are also a nice and low-pressure way to ease into the business relationship.
Shake hands with everyone in attendance at both the beginning and end of the meeting.
Just like in most meetings in Ireland, small talk often happens before negotiations begin. Focus on Irish culture and sports, but avoid politics and religion, as stated earlier. Once the negotiations begin, keep to business. Don’t be loud, pretentious, or arrogant. Speak plainly and expect that what you say will be taken literally. You can expect the same of your Irish counterparts, though early banter and exaggerations shouldn’t be taken seriously.
The Irish will not respond well to being pressured, so stay relaxed and do not be in a hurry. While they do not like aggressive sales tactics, they will bargain and negotiate over prices, so be prepared. The Irish are notorious for their profit-focused, short-term orientation, so be sure to demonstrate these benefits in your presentation. The Irish place value on facts and empirical evidence over feelings, so keep emotions in check during your negotiations.
Agreements are normally formalized in writing and then signed by both parties. For less formal matters, a verbal agreement may suffice It’s always good to clarify how an agreement will be followed up to make sure everyone agrees.
Business structures are hierarchical. Decisions usually made at the top but the lines between managers and their subordinates are sometimes blurred. Irish are often friendlier and less formal than their European counterparts.
Formal yet fashionable suits and dresses with blazers are generally suitable, though dress tends to be less formal than in Western Europe. Tweeds, wools, and subdued colors are good. Avoid flashy colors or styles. As in most situations and countries, it’s better to start off in more formal attire and follow your Irish associate’s lead. Also avoid flashy and expensive jewelry as the Irish are typically understated in theirs. Always pack a raincoat for Ireland. You may need it year-round.
If you are doing business in the countryside, you will find dress more informal, so you’ll want to adjust. People in the countryside are also very friendly and open, so be sure to take a similar approach.
The Irish are generally happy to conduct business in a restaurant, though it’s more likely over lunch than dinner. It could very well happen that your Irish counterpart will suggest a business meeting in a restaurant, something that you can also offer. Be sure to find a place that is suitable for business and is quiet enough to carry on a conversation.
Business dinners tend to be more social in nature than for conducting business and are an opportunity for you to deepen relationships. You may also head to a local pub for a pint of the Irish national drink – Guinness stout. Again, this setting is generally more for building your existing relationship, not necessarily for doing business. Don’t bring up business unless your host does first.
Gifts are not usually part of Irish business. If you decide to share a gift, save it for the successful conclusion of your negotiations. If you are invited to someone’s home, bring chocolate, flowers, or a good bottle of wine. A book from your home region is also a nice option. If bringing flowers, avoid lilies and red or white flowers of any kind. Don’t give your host something overly expensive or extravagant. If you receive a gift, open it in front of the giver, express your appreciation, and send a thank you note.
Office hours are generally 9:00 to 5:30 with an hour for lunch. Religious and family holidays are important in Ireland. Avoid arranging meetings over Easter and Christmas. July and August are also months to avoid due to their being the main vacation time. Religion plays a significant role in Irish culture. Most of the population are Catholic and this has heavily influenced cultural values and social norms in the country, including holidays.
Doing business in Ireland provides for a rich and enjoyable cultural experience. You'll have the opportunity to build deep, lasting, and successful business relationships. With all that Ireland has to offer, taking the time to learn about their business culture will enhance your experience and potential business prospects.
KNOWLEDGE BASE Ireland Business Etiquette & Culture