Russian Worldview

Group Orientation
Identity defined by one’s “in-group” or friends; interdependence within this group is strong. Those outside the group identify with their own groups.

Balanced Competition 
Harmony within the group is important; therefore competition may be seen as disruptive but may occur as a result of protecting the “in-group.”

Relationship Focused 
Relationships develop gradually and continue over time; self-disclosure late and based on trust; reciprocity is basis of relationships.

Well-formed pattern or rank and authority; status is well-defined within the hierarchy.

Tolerance for Ambiguity 
While Russians traditionally accept that there are rules and regulations to guide every aspect of life, it is also commonly accepted that these rules may need to be broken to get what is needed. The belief that individuals have little control over life events (fate), means that while attempts are made to avoid uncertainty, most people accept that life comes with a high degree of ambiguity.

Observing rules and regulations is subject to context and relationships. Creative problem-solving is often valued over observance of rules.

Fluid Time 
Deadlines and appointments are the rule, but priorities often shift to accommodate creative problem-solving.

Cultural Notes:

  • Russia’s territory spans 11 time zones and two continents.
  • Since gaining independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has faced serious challenges forging a new political system after nearly 75 years of centralized, totalitarian rule.

Traditional Russian Cultural Assumptions

Communalism, Collectivism 

  • Mir (commune), a pre-soviet concept
  • Sobornost (communal spirit, togetherness)
  • Group action

Caution, Conservatism 

  • Catastrophes can be man-made
  • Mistakes have serious consequences
  • Risk-aversion
  • “The world is a dangerous place” (Russian professor)

The “Russian Soul” 

  • Endurance and perseverance
  • Deep emotions– soulfulness
  • Tselnost (complete commitment)
  • Self sacrifice
  • Duty to group and friendship
  • Fatalism

Traditional Russian Communication Style

Russians may seem to be very direct at times, making de-mands and strongly expressing opinions in an emotional way. However, often the true message is hidden in body lan-guage, tone of voice, or the context of a situation. Politeness may be used to hide true opinions. Sometimes promises are made that cannot be kept in order to establish relationships or avoid losing face.

High Context
Russians are open to direct communication, but still search for messages beyond words. Without necessarily realizing it, they expect a certain degree of dusha (soulfulness), respect for creative problem-solving and demonstration of persever-ance in order to develop mutual respect. Communications without these elements may not be as successful.

Formality of address; taking hierarchy into consideration; language is indicative of status. Dress and personal appear-ance communicates status. 

Emotionally Expressive 
Although most Russians expect outsiders to demonstrate a degree of emotional constraint in public, overt display of emotions common in business negotiations and between members of the “in-group.”

Fluid Time 
Foreigners are expected to be on time to show respect. However it is common for Russians to re-prioritize depend-ing on demands from others with whom they have a higher level of commitment. This can lead to being late for appoint-ments or frequent interruptions during meetings.


The Communist Legacy

  • Ideological pressure
  • Compulsion
  • Direct state economic control
  • State-owned land and property
  • Government planning
  • Direct distribution
  • Government price control
  • Poor economic performance
  • Low living standards
  • Demoralized society
  • Hard drinking
  • Bribery
  • Embezzlement

Guidelines for Communicating with Russians

  • Use titles or surnames until invited to use first names. Then make sure you know which form of their name they would prefer you use.
  • Use polite language that demonstrates respect.
  • Russians are distrustful of those who are overly optimistic, offer too much praise, or cannot see the difficulties that could be faced.
  • Complaining about bureaucracy and how long things take is a common way of bonding.
  • Demonstrating perseverance and long-term commitment builds trust.
  • People may say what they think you want to hear, even if they don’t have the authority to carry out the promise. Make sure to check facts thoroughly.
  • Pushiness erodes trust.
  • Russians do not expect that all things will have a positive outcome (fate), and feel suspicious of those who promise it will.
  • Socializing is necessary to build relationships. Participating in discussion, rather just politely listening, is expected.
  • Learn about Russians history so that you can contribute to the conversation and demonstrate genuine interest in social or business interaction.

Values in Tension

  • European and Mongol
  • Wealthy and poverty-stricken
  • Official laws versus understood rules Public versus behind-the-scenes
  • Entrepreneurialism versus egalitarianism
  • Individualists versus working for the greater good
  • Recognized international business market versus black market
  • Modernization versus strong ties to tradition

Non-Verbal Dynamics

It is rude to point by an index finger. If you don’t have anything in your hand (like a pen or a pencil) to point with – use the whole hand or any finger but the index one. Russians greet other people raising a hand.

The typical greeting is a firm, almost bone-crushing handshake while maintaining direct eye contact. When men shake hands with women, the handshake is less firm. Allow the woman to initiate the handshake. When female friends meet, they kiss on the cheek. When close male friends meet, they may pat each other on the back, hug and even kiss each other.

Privacy is rare in Russia, but this is changing with economic development and prosperity. Everyone knows their neighbors because they seldom move; similar with colleagues in the workplace. Personal distance is close – about 12 inches.

Business Practices

PROBLEM SOLVING Generally, Russians do not accept individual responsibility and accountability; they do not admit mistakes or misbehavior. Problems are often raised with no intention of finding immediate solutions.
MOTIVATING PEOPLE Safe, supportive, comfortable work environment with promise for long-term security. Often the presence of a strong leader is still preferred
APPRAISING PERFORMANCE Informal, subjective; personal relationship (loyalty) supersedes performance.
PERFORMANCE EXPECTATIONS Respect for authority; maintaining good relationships inside and outside of the organization; engaged approach to meetings and creative problem solving.
NEGOTIATING, PERSUADING Russians are known as great "sitters" during negotiations. This demonstrates their tremendous patience. Patience and sincerity are essential in building trust. Negotiations are seen as win-lose. Russians do not believe in win-win scenarios. They view compromise as weakness. They will continue negotiating until you offer concessions.
DECISION MAKING PROCESS Hesitant to make decisions and to accept responsibility and accountability; high avoidance of admitting mistakes. Decisions come from above after opinions are heard at appropriate time or in one-on-one meetings.
PARTICIPATION IN MEETINGS Formality of dress and address; emotional display is common; attention to hierarchy and power in the room. Any sort of business meeting is looked upon as a negotiation peregovori with its own type of protocol - exchange of business cards, speeches, tea and cookies, and vodka. Discussions are conducted in a very serious tone. Make certain you know who the real decision-maker is. At the end of the meeting, expect to sign a protocol, which is a summary of what was discussed.
Authoritarian management; upward dependence; hierarchy is important as age, rank, and position are respected.
HIRING Hiring and firing is based on loyalty and performance.
CUSTOMER RELATIONS Russians are often slow to open up and may appear suspicious. They often use time as a tactic, especially if they know that you have a deadline. Be cautious about letting your customers know that you are under time pressure or they will delay even more. Relationships are built through referrals and mutual contacts. A Russian’s status is determined by whom one knows and whom one can take care of. It is extremely difficult to do business in Russia without help from a local. To this extent, offering inexpensive gifts is often a good idea when doing business in Russia. Appointments are necessary and should be made as far in advance as possible. Check the credentials of your contact to ensure you are really dealing with whom you think you are. Never check by asking your contact directly.