Work-Life 8/6/2015

Going The Distance: Positive Attitudes For Conducting Yourself During Business Trips by LJA

Whether you’re new to work travel or are an experienced globetrotting pro with thousands of skymiles, there are major benefits to traveling with class (not just business class). Whether you’re flying the friendly skies, traveling on a train, or driving to different domains there’s much to learn when going to different places - and not just in a business sense; a personal and cultural sense, too.

When it comes to business travel, we think about all of the logistics and the stress of traveling, not to mention actually doing your job and there are a ton of other questions to consider, too: Who is going to watch my kids while I’m gone? Will I be able to accomplish my performance goals in the limited time frame I have? Will the cost of traveling to see my clients be worth the business I’m going to get from them? What’s my gate, again? Will I miss my connecting flight?!

Aside these typical logistical and performance questions, business travel is more than just about getting the job done in another location - the focus is also about how we get it done. How we build rapport with our traveling companions, foreign partners and clients can make or break how we get results from last minute production issues, communication problems between headquarters and a foreign office, and more. Without getting too much into social sciences and anthropology, let’s take a step back and be more sensitive - if not more aware - of the subtle nuances of work travel and how the consequences follow us back to our home office.

Being All Eyes and Ears: Listening and Observing

Listening and observing are some of the most underplayed skills in business travel. Many of us go to a client or key stakeholder to make them happy, armed and ready with all the presentations and collateral we think they want to hear and see. Or we’re determined to fix an issue with a supplier or distributor. Whatever the cause for concern, business travel affords us the initial opportunity to just get there so we can really get what’s going on; To see what’s really happening instead of what we imagine to be happening.

Listening and observing can also help in building rapport with foreign offices. As many businesses are globalized, it’s common to have branches throughout the rest of the world. While our colleagues are under the same company with presumably the same corporate values, the cultural values and social aspects of foreign offices such as those in Japan may be totally different to the corporate headquarters in the United States. Paying close attention to the subtle nuances of differing cultural behaviors- dining etiquette, drinking etiquette, after hours socializing and partying, and even dining with a foreign colleague’s family - can forge strong professional relationships and mutual respect that has real payoffs. 

Dare: Just Say Yes

If it doesn’t kill you or seriously impede upon your personal values, then make the effort to say “Yes” as much as possible when on a business trip. Building new relationships, changing the outcomes of difficult circumstances, and finding new opportunities in career and life by saying Yes become the doors necessary to move forward.

In one example, a client of mine was at a tradeshow in Europe. A competitor asked him to join him for a few beers, but he was tired and just wanted to go to back to his hotel room. My client heard my voice in his head saying, “Say yes. This is an opportunity to network.” They got to talking about their personal lives and goals and months later, when an opportunity came up, this competitor referred it to my client and it helped to change his life and achieve some dreams - all by saying yes to the opportunity and building rapport with a person who could have otherwise remained a stranger.

Zip Code Rules: Be Careful of What Follows Your Home

Now, saying yes doesn’t mean taking on the mantra “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”. I could tell you at least a dozen examples from the top of my head about gross and embarrassing stories of clients and their colleagues that happened on business trips. The moment they leave their zip code, some people think it’s an opportunity to totally release their inhibitions, do things they would never, consciously and in their right minds do at home, in addition betray their family and values.

Just for the fun of it and more importantly to drive the point home, I’ll tell you one true story…. you ready?

A few professionals I know went on a business trip to a European country for a global sales meeting. In Europe, the alcohol seems to flow pretty freely at business events, so a few of the employees got totally trashed and ended up hooking up. A colleague went back to his room to find that his other colleagues (a man and his ex-girlfriend’s mother!) were hooking up in his room. And, on top of that, they left the curtains open and other colleagues were watching them hook up! When this colleague was finally able to get back into his room to retrieve his belongings, he found the place totally trashed with unmentionable protective devices and bodily fluids left throughout the hotel room. Not only was this particular colleague disgusted, but everyone who was at the sales meeting knew about it and this couple was forever branded at the global headquarters for this scandal.

Long and short of it - have fun while you’re on the road, but don’t let the shenanigans follow you home.

An Indecent Proposal: Hosting Clients And Colleagues

Many couples, including my husband and I, work as a team to entertain traveling business guests. There are ups and downs to this joint effort, so it’s worth mentioning. This one is a personal and funny story of my husband’s grandmother, Grande Mamie, who hosted her husband’s business associate and how she dealt with his inappropriate and unwanted advances.

My husband’s grandfather sold industrial machinery to champagne houses in France. Occasionally, he would invite business associates to his villa in the south of France and entertain them there. Grande Mamie was responsible for creating a warm and inviting experience that could foster his business relationships. One evening, Grande Mamie was in the kitchen cooking and this associate started making moves on her, even daring to touch her inappropriately. Without thinking twice, she slapped the man away and told him that she didn’t care who he was and that she wouldn’t tolerate his advances. She shut this man down and needless to say, he wasn’t welcome to their villa anymore - and his business was no longer wanted.

No matter how tempting it is to hit on your colleague’s wife, don’t. And no matter how wanted someone’s business is, don’t let it compromise your values. This isn’t Indecent Proposal.

Business Travel and Hail Marys

Business travel can sometimes be seen as a Hail Mary to accomplish something that just can’t be done at the home base: trying to fix problems, land accounts, establish connections, and build businesses and opportunities that at one time existed only in our imaginations. For some of you out there, work travel is simply another part of the job and without it, progress simply can’t happen.

While business travel has its benefits and disadvantages (I’m sure it’s easy for you to think of a few things we sacrifice) there is always something to be gained from the experiences from being on the road. With basic attitudes towards handling how you take care of business either domestically or abroad, you can go the distance for your career and bring the success home.