Visitors protocol manual

6 Protocol

6.1 Cultural considerations

Understanding the values, attitudes and behaviours of other people from different countries is the key to doing business and building relationships. Knowledge of other cultures is often better acquired by experience rather than study/research. Cultures vary significantly and differences can even be observed within a single nationality. Remember the following when dealing with a range of cultures:

  • Cultures are constantly changing and evolving
  • First-hand experience is required to understand the subtleties of another culture
  • What is important to a particular culture can be seen as less important to another
  • Cultural groups have differing attitudes to the importance of time and being on time
  • An interpreter can be useful in confirming communication is understood. Some visitors with limited English will often smile and nod but do not actually understand what is being said
  • Understanding other cultures is a continual process

6.2 Intercultural communication

The process of listening and responding to people from different cultural backgrounds can be challenging. The greater the difference in culture between two people, the greater the potential for misunderstanding.

To minimise miscommunication, increase your knowledge of the other culture and establish a common ground. The following suggestions will minimise misunderstanding and enhance effective communication:

  • Actively seek information: Actively seeking information about a culture before you meet a visitor will help manage the uncertainty about how to behave in intercultural situations. If possible, seek information through the experiences of others, as this can help counter any inaccuracies.
  • Ask questions and listen effectively: Asking questions, then pausing to listen, is a simple technique for gathering information. When asking questions, remember to also share information about yourself so that your guest does not feel interrogated. It is equally important to listen.
  • Patience: Communicating with someone from another culture can be difficult and may take time to clarify a message. Be patient and remember the visitor may have a different view to you, and can take further time to process the information, if English is not a first language.
  • Awareness and adaptability: Acknowledge cultural differences when interacting with people from different backgrounds. Try to consider the other individual's view and use his/her cultural priorities and assumptions when communicating. Be adaptable with your behaviour to enhance the exchange of information.

6.3 Greeting your guest

Many cultures display more formality than ours, especially in the use of names. Avoid calling guests by their first names unless invited to do so. Use titles such as dr and professor together with their surname. When unsure which name is their surname/family name, simply ask.

Practice name pronunciation in advance. If unsure, ask a native speaker of the language. Sometimes a guest may assume a western name they prefer to use.

The handshake has many variations among cultures. If in doubt, wait to see if the visitor extends his/her hand, and if so, match the pressure and length of the handshake given. Not sure whether to kiss, bow or shake hands visit:

Present and receive business cards with both hands.

Keep in mind that not all cultures use direct eye contact as it may be considered intrusive and disrespectful. Try to mirror the degree of eye contact in order to keep visitors comfortable.

6.4 Interpreters

When communicating with the aid of an interpreter remember to:

  • Actively listen
  • Speak slowly and clearly
  • Use simple, straightforward words
  • Be patient
  • Don’t jump to conclusions
  • Don’t yell
  • Wait for the translation
  • Observe body language

6.5 Gifts

Australians are generally not gift-giving people in the same way as other nationalities such as Asian cultures where gift-giving in a commercial or business relationship is an important part of life.

As a general rule the following regions place high importance on gift-giving:


Hong Kong


South Korea

Latin America





The Middle East

The Philippines

The following countries/regions place less importance:



Europe including the UK

United States

Most often gifts presented to visitors are small items of comparatively low monetary value. They frequently have the RMIT University logo shown on them. Appropriate gifts would include items as pens, paperweights, notebooks, letter openers, books, scarves and heraldic shields.

Tips on gift giving:

  • In choosing gifts, remember that international visitors will have to carry the gift within their airline luggage allowances. A heavy or bulky item may not be that welcome.
  • All business negotiations should be concluded before gifts are exchanged.
  • Specify that the gift is from the University. Explain the meaning of the gift to the receiver.
  • Present the gift to the delegation leader or the most senior delegate first.
  • Give gifts of the same value and/or grade to people of the same level of importance. Any inequities may lead to strains in your relationship.
  • If a guest visits several areas in the University, check that the presentation/gift from the most senior University person is not seen as inferior to a presentation received elsewhere in the University.
  • Consult with University Events to ensure that the same gift is not presented twice.
  • Have your gifts wrapped in red paper, which is considered a lucky colour in many cultures.
  • A ‘with compliments’ card or short note signed by the host should be included with the gift. If the gift is a book, the card should be affixed inside the front cover.

Gift protocols for visits handled by University Events:

  • Gifts to bear RMIT logo
  • All gifts to be wrapped in RMIT corporate paper
  • For large delegations, the gift is presented to the group leader only
  • For smaller delegations, a gift to all, with senior delegates receiving more costly gifts
  • Delegation to receive RMIT information pack

Presenting the gift

  • The chairperson or most senior staff member will present the gift to the delegation leader
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