Use the formal version of “you” (vous)
When conducting business in French, refrain from using the informal version of “you” (“tu”) in business meetings unless you have a close personal relationship. Use “vous” unless invited to do otherwise.
Titles are important
When addressing someone who is senior to you, whether in age or status, use “Monsieur “and “Madame” followed by the person’s title: e.g. “Monsieur le directeur” / “Madame le Ministre”, etc. Alternatively, you can use “Monsieur” / “Madame” followed by the last name: e.g. “Monsieur Ouattara” / “Madame Yao”, etc.
A handshake is the standard greeting. Women who know each other well may kiss three times. Eye contact is also important, but staring can be considered aggressive, so make sure to look away occasionally.
Value of expertise
Ivorians expect their managers to be experts in their field. However, they also value wisdom, which means realizing that, no matter how much of an expert you are, you still have some things to learn. To gain respect, demonstrate your expertise, but do not be a know-it-all. Asking your counterpart for advice is always well perceived.
The art of small talk
Start meetings with small talk rather than jumping straight into business. Acceptable topics are family (especially children), sports or cultural events, and even the weather. Because of the country’s dependence on agriculture, weather is fundamental to the well-being of many Ivorians. It is acceptable to talk to mutual acquaintances to find out more about the person you will be meeting so that you can start building a relationship.
Avoid addressing the country’s political situation. It is complex and highly partisan and sure to land you in hot water. If someone asks your opinion, be diplomatic, saying something like, “I don’t understand the situation well enough to have a firm opinion.”
Business relationships depend very much on the exchange of favours. As you develop relationships with individual Ivorians, they will do things to make life easier for you: invite you to local festivals, provide introductions to influential people, fill you in on the other people you are going to work with, etc.