Minding your manners in South East Asia Minding your manners in South East Asia

Minding your manners in South East Asia
30 Apr 2017

In the first of a series of articles, we explore the issue of business etiquette around the world. Business etiquette concerns itself with socially acceptable ways of behaving in a professional environment and, as such, is intrinsically linked to local culture.

As a result, when working in their home country it is usually something that people think very little about. When was the last time you pondered the correct etiquette for dining with a colleague or mused over what was the appropriate greeting to a client?

But once you start operating at the international level, suddenly the picture looks very different and the horizon becomes littered with potential obstacles and hazards. What is acceptable behaviour in a business capacity in one country will almost certainly not be in another?

For example, the way that wealth is talked about is very different across cultures. In Europe, it is frowned upon to talk about being wealthy as it is considered vulgar. Discussions about money, pay or self-aggrandizing behaviour are considered inappropriate, with people expected to be self-effacing in such areas.

In Russia, the US, China and other countries such as the Ukraine, on the other hand, wealthy individuals embrace their good fortune and even exaggerate it as it enhances their image.

These stances even translate into how you choose to dress or the accessories you select for business meetings. While evidence of success may be celebrated and admired in the US and Asia, Europeans adhere to more understated shows of wealth.

Here are some examples of international business etiquette in three important Asian countries to give you a flavour:

Japan

Japan is a good example of a culture that is very different to that of western nations and so can be difficult for unprepared business visitors to negotiate successfully. Firstly, it is a ‘collective’ nation where the needs of the group are considered more important than those of the individual. This fact alone can make a Japanese workplace feel really quite different to that of, say, a US organisation. From a communication perspective, a lot is symbolic and implicit, which makes it necessary to decode what is being said. The Japanese term ‘nemawashi’ is a good lens for understanding its culture: roughly translated, it means ‘laying the groundwork’ and this is what is required during business interactions. So for example, do not spring unexpected business plans on colleagues or associates. Before making requests or presenting information, be prepared to put the work into developing a relationship and always adhere to hierarchical etiquette.

In Japan, the most senior executive is always placed at the head of the table and served refreshments first. Everyone else is also seated and served in order of rank and importance.

A bow is customary when meeting a Japanese business associate (perhaps also accompanied by a handshake) and business cards should be given and received with due respect.

Brunei

In countries such as Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia, personal relationships are integral to professional interactions. People from Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) cultures want to know the person behind the business suit, which includes their family.

As a result, it is quite normal to be invited to dine at a client or business associate’s home as a precursor to doing business. To decline due to an assumption that the invitation is an empty one could well sour the relationship irrevocably. The dining experience itself is informal, with little adherence to defined courses or the use of specific cutlery and glassware. It is, in fact, often a rambunctious affair. But be cautious of admiring your associate’s personal possessions as they will undoubtedly feel obliged to give them to you.

India

In India, time is often more fluid than it is in western nations, which means that scheduling business meetings for a specific time is more of an indication than a fixed arrangement. The same principle applies to the meetings themselves, which can be protracted.

In a similar way to ASEAN cultures, you may well be invited into the home of a colleague or associate as it is considered the hospitable thing to do. Remove your shoes when entering their home, placing the soles together. But ensure you do not show the soles of your feet when doing so or during the meal as it is considered impolite. Most Indians eat without utensils, but these may be on hand if guests are present. If not using utensils, eat with the right hand or both if one is insufficient, but never the left alone. A gift is acceptable although not expected, but avoid alcohol or leather products.

Conclusion

There are numerous business etiquette considerations when working internationally, not only in terms of the correct procedures and rituals that you will be expected to adhere to, but also relating to your personal presentation and verbal discourse. That you have taken the time to understand and appreciate the local culture will always be appreciated, with each small effort enabling you to develop stronger relationships and, ultimately, achieve your professional aims.

 Paul Russell

Paul Russell, co-founder and director, Luxury Academy London

In the first of a series of articles, we explore the issue of business etiquette around the world. Business etiquette concerns itself with socially acceptable ways of behaving in a professional environment and, as such, is intrinsically linked to local culture.

As a result, when working in their home country it is usually something that people think very little about. When was the last time you pondered the correct etiquette for dining with a colleague or mused over what was the appropriate greeting to a client?

But once you start operating at the international level, suddenly the picture looks very different and the horizon becomes littered with potential obstacles and hazards. What is acceptable behaviour in a business capacity in one country will almost certainly not be in another?

For example, the way that wealth is talked about is very different across cultures. In Europe, it is frowned upon to talk about being wealthy as it is considered vulgar. Discussions about money, pay or self-aggrandizing behaviour are considered inappropriate, with people expected to be self-effacing in such areas.

In Russia, the US, China and other countries such as the Ukraine, on the other hand, wealthy individuals embrace their good fortune and even exaggerate it as it enhances their image.

These stances even translate into how you choose to dress or the accessories you select for business meetings. While evidence of success may be celebrated and admired in the US and Asia, Europeans adhere to more understated shows of wealth.

Here are some examples of international business etiquette in three important Asian countries to give you a flavour:

Japan

Japan is a good example of a culture that is very different to that of western nations and so can be difficult for unprepared business visitors to negotiate successfully. Firstly, it is a ‘collective’ nation where the needs of the group are considered more important than those of the individual. This fact alone can make a Japanese workplace feel really quite different to that of, say, a US organisation. From a communication perspective, a lot is symbolic and implicit, which makes it necessary to decode what is being said. The Japanese term ‘nemawashi’ is a good lens for understanding its culture: roughly translated, it means ‘laying the groundwork’ and this is what is required during business interactions. So for example, do not spring unexpected business plans on colleagues or associates. Before making requests or presenting information, be prepared to put the work into developing a relationship and always adhere to hierarchical etiquette.

In Japan, the most senior executive is always placed at the head of the table and served refreshments first. Everyone else is also seated and served in order of rank and importance.

A bow is customary when meeting a Japanese business associate (perhaps also accompanied by a handshake) and business cards should be given and received with due respect.

Brunei

In countries such as Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia, personal relationships are integral to professional interactions. People from Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) cultures want to know the person behind the business suit, which includes their family.

As a result, it is quite normal to be invited to dine at a client or business associate’s home as a precursor to doing business. To decline due to an assumption that the invitation is an empty one could well sour the relationship irrevocably. The dining experience itself is informal, with little adherence to defined courses or the use of specific cutlery and glassware. It is, in fact, often a rambunctious affair. But be cautious of admiring your associate’s personal possessions as they will undoubtedly feel obliged to give them to you.

India

In India, time is often more fluid than it is in western nations, which means that scheduling business meetings for a specific time is more of an indication than a fixed arrangement. The same principle applies to the meetings themselves, which can be protracted.

In a similar way to ASEAN cultures, you may well be invited into the home of a colleague or associate as it is considered the hospitable thing to do. Remove your shoes when entering their home, placing the soles together. But ensure you do not show the soles of your feet when doing so or during the meal as it is considered impolite. Most Indians eat without utensils, but these may be on hand if guests are present. If not using utensils, eat with the right hand or both if one is insufficient, but never the left alone. A gift is acceptable although not expected, but avoid alcohol or leather products.

Conclusion

There are numerous business etiquette considerations when working internationally, not only in terms of the correct procedures and rituals that you will be expected to adhere to, but also relating to your personal presentation and verbal discourse. That you have taken the time to understand and appreciate the local culture will always be appreciated, with each small effort enabling you to develop stronger relationships and, ultimately, achieve your professional aims.

 Paul Russell

Paul Russell, co-founder and director, Luxury Academy London