Top tips for doing business in Indonesia
Indonesia is an archipelago of over 17,000 islands stretching 3,200 miles along the equator south, east, and west of Malaysia. Six thousand of these islands are inhabited and, with a population of 238 million, Indonesia the fourth largest population in the world. Indonesians consider the waters that separate the islands to be integral to their territory, calling their country Tanah Air Kita (“Our Land and Water”). When doing business in Indonesia it is important to bear in mind the following ‘tips’:
Respect is usually shown to those with status, power, position, and age – the most senior is expected to make group decisions.
In Indonesia the concept of ‘face’ and avoiding the cause of shame (“malu”) is important. Although a foreigner is not expected to understand the nuances it is crucial to keep an eye on ones behaviour.
If you are being introduced to several people, always start with the eldest or most senior person first.
Titles are important in Indonesia as they signify status. If you know of any titles ensure you use them in conjunction with the name.
When dining out, wait to be shown to your place – as a guest you will have a specific position.
Business cards are extremely important and should be treated with respect. Although not required, having one side of your card printed in Bahasa Indonesian shows respect.
Indonesians are indirect communicators who do not like to say ‘No’. This means they do not always say what they mean and it is up to the listener to read between the lines or pay attention to gestures and body language to get the real message.
Generally Indonesians speak quietly and with a subdued tone. Loud people come across as aggressive.
“Jam Karet” (rubber time) describes the Indonesian approach to time. Things are not rushed – everything has its time and place.
If negotiating, avoid pressure tactics as they are likely to backfire.
Top tips for doing business in Malaysia
Situated just north of the Equator line, Peninsular Malaysia is separated from Sabah and Sarawak by the South China Sea. The northern part of Peninsular Malaysia borders Thailand, and the south borders Singapore. Sabah and Sarawak are bounded by Indonesia while Sarawak also shares borders with Brunei.
Contemporary Malaysia represents a unique fusion of Malay, Chinese, and Indian traditions, creating a pluralistic and multicultural nation. Acquiring the relevant cultural knowledge is crucial to conducting business successfully.
It is important to bear in mind the following ‘tips’:
Hierarchy is an integral part of Malaysian business culture. Companies generally follow a vertical hierarchical structure where authority is directed from the top.
Titles and job descriptions play a significant part in many Malaysian companies as they emphasise the line of authority within the business.
It is imperative to avoid anything that could make a Malaysian lose ‘face’.
Observe people’s facial expressions and body language – the nuances of communication are often conveyed subtly and non-verbally.
Never criticize employees or business partners publicly. Failure in Malaysia causes a long-term loss of confidence by the individual as well as by others.
Malaysia is a fluid time culture; it is advisable to reinforce the importance of the agreed-upon deadlines and how that may affect the rest of the organization.
Malaysians may pause up to 20 seconds before answering a question; do not immediately start to speak or take their silence as agreement.
Only shake hands with a Malaysian businesswoman if she initiates the gesture. Business cards are extremely important.
Have one side of your card translated into Chinese or Bahasa Malaysia, depending on who you are meeting with.
Handle business cards carefully – the respect you show someone’s business card is indicative of the respect you will show the individual in business.
Top tips for doing business in Vietnam
Vietnam lies on the Eastern edge of the Asian landmass and is a long, thin country of some 330,000 sq km. Its northern boundary with China is mountainous as is that with Laos to the West. In the South it shares a border with Cambodia. The Capital, Hanoi, is in the North and is the administrative and cultural centre while Ho Chi Minh City (still referred to as Saigon) in the South is the commercial centre. Vietnam’s population is just under 90 million.
When doing business in Vietnam it is important to bear in mind the following ‘tips’:
“Yes” does not always mean “Yes, I agree with you” but can mean “Yes, I hear you”. In conversation, check back to ensure that what has been agreed, really has been agreed
“Face” is extremely important. Always stay calm and don’t lose your temper – to do so would result in a total loss of face which, frequently, can never be recovered.
Numbers are frequently misunderstood as we tend to talk in “thousands” while the Vietnamese talk in “hundreds”. Apply due diligence – if something appears an absolute bargain, check the figures.
At all costs avoid touching someone’s head. Do not pass anything over someone’shead either.
In business, patience, perseverance and sensitivity are key.
For successful business partnerships, it is extremely important to build good relationships first.
Meet individuals of a corresponding status as it can be difficult to subsequently seek to meet a more senior individual in the future.
Business cards are most important and one should always have a good supply in both English and Vietnamese. They should be presented with two hands, towards the recipient.
Always treat other’s business cards with the greatest respect. They should be received with both hands, studied carefully and then put away safely (not put in a trouser pocket or left on the table).
Vietnam is probably one of the safest places in the world. However, crossing the road takes practice. Avoid cars, trucks and busses and cross slowly. Bikes will avoid you but don’t be tempted to run or stop – that’s not what the rider is expecting you to do.
Top tips for doing business in China
China (in Mandarin ‘Zhong Guo’ – The Middle Kingdom) is a large, complex country with an approximate population of more than 1.3 billion people. There are 34 province-level administrative units in China, including 4 municipalities, 23 Provinces (including Taiwan, which is claimed as a province but is not currently under the administration of the People's Republic of China), 5 autonomous regions and 2 special districts, Hong Kong and Macao. Geographically, China is amazingly diverse – from the Himalayas on the border with India, the sweeping steppes of Tibet, the vast emptiness of the Gobi Desert in the North West, the ‘Ice City’ of Harbin in the North East, the sub-tropics in the south and the jungles in the South West to the agricultural ‘rice bowls’ of Central China.
When doing business in China it is important to bear in mind the following ‘tips’:
Guanxi, or personal relationships, are of vital importance when doing business in China. Be patient and do not underestimate the importance of the, often lengthy, relationship building process.
Status is very important and introductions tend to be formal. You should always address a person by their official or professional title and last name.
While handshakes are common in China, you should wait for the other person to extend their hand first, particularly when they are senior to you.
Business cards should be printed in English and Mandarin Chinese. They should be formally exchanged at the beginning of a meeting and treated with great respect. Never put a person’s business card in your pocket.
Meetings are often long and seemingly without clear objectives. Very often the meeting is an exercise in relationship-building and the aim of the meeting is to move the relationship, rather than any specific business task, forward.
Always be punctual – lateness or cancellation is a sign of disrespect and can damage a relationship.
Managers tend to be directive, which reflects basic Confucian concepts of the hierarchical nature of society. In return for loyalty, the boss is expected to show consideration and interest in all aspects of a subordinates' life.
It is important that you do not make people 'lose face' in front of their group. Always respect seniority and do not openly disagree with people.
Evening banquets are very common and you should make sure to familiarise yourself with the general etiquette: never begin to eat or drink before your host, do not stick your chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice and leave a little food on your plate to indicate that you are no longer hungry.
Colours are extremely significant in China so do your research before choosing colours for your print material or wrapping paper.
Top tips for doing business in India
India is situated in southern Asia and consists of 29 states. India’s population is around 1.2 billion making it the 2nd most populated country in the world today. New Delhi is the capital. India is the birthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism with Hinduism accounting for around 82% of Indian religion.
India is a paradox in which the modern and traditional co-exist - and where extreme wealth sits alongside abject poverty - being open minded and respectful of religious and regional cultural diversities is vital for companies seeking to trade there. When doing business in India it is important to bear in mind the following ‘tips’:
Hospitality and family are very important and it is important to build trust with your Indian hosts.
India is very status driven – hierarchy plays an important part so find out who is senior and who is junior and who is expected to speak at business meetings.
Indians like to save face and will convey messages without trying to cause offence.
Expect delays and be patient – time is viewed differently in India.
Most decisions are made by senior individuals within the organsiation so practise your negotiation skills and be prepared.
Be prepared for bureaucracy – everything takes longer than in the West.
India is a diverse country in transition, so be prepared to change your views and avoid a ‘one size fits all’ stance.
Never underestimate the role of religion.
Be aware of the thriving Indian caste system, even though it’s unlikely that you will come across it in professional dealings, it is still prevalent in traditional Indian culture.
India’s infrastructure is struggling to cope with its rising population so don’t expect to be able to schedule multiple meetings due to logistical challenges.