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Business etiquette in Asia-Pac

How to do business in the Asia-Pacific region.

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This week, in honour of Mauve Group’s location celebrations, we are taking a closer look at business etiquette in the Asian-Pacific region.

Defined by its proximity to the Western Pacific Ocean, the Asia-Pacific region includes East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Oceania. The region is an exciting location for new business, with organisations such as ASEAN (The Association of Southeast Asian Nations) uniting nations and aiding the region’s economic development and political security.

International business expansion can be a daunting endeavour. Choosing locations, navigating foreign markets, recruiting local talent, and adjusting to local customs are challenging tasks no matter the expanding company’s size. When doing business in Asia, it is important to try to understand and appreciate the local culture. Efforts to adapt to national customs and embrace local business etiquette will be recognised and rewarded.

In this article, Mauve considers the business etiquette of three nations within the Asian-Pacific region: Japan, Singapore, and Thailand.

Doing business in Singapore

Home to our Global Account Manager Lucia Tan, Singapore is a financial centre and is ranked the most pro-business economy in the world. Maintaining a clean, environmentally sustainable city is important in Singapore. Littering or showing a general disregard for the streets is not likely to play well with potential business colleagues.

Business cards are significant in many Asian countries. The exchange of business cards is almost a ritual within the region as they help everyone to understand the specialisation and hierarchy of individuals. In Singapore, business cards should be exchanged immediately and treated with respect. Meals are also a key part of Singaporean culture. As in any region, strong relationships between co-workers and business contacts will get deals done, sharing multiple dishes at the table is expected. If the occasion is particularly formal, allow the host to order all the dishes.

Doing business in Japan

Japanese culture is rooted in respect. Being polite is a virtue for all business endeavours but vital for success in Japan. Greet the most senior contacts first, as age and seniority are influential, but be wary to treat even the youngest attendants of meetings with respect. Greetings are often a concern for westerners as Japanese people are known to favour a bow over a handshake. However, politeness is required over perfection– if offered a handshake, take it or if a business partner bows, mimic this to show respect.

Reliability and punctuality are also imperative. Open Yokohama’s business etiquette guide advises that deadlines and timetables are stuck too during meetings as many Japanese companies are time strict and offer limited extensions. Documents that require a signature should also be sent as early in advance of a meeting a possible, especially when you are not directly meeting the most senior member of a company.

Business dinners and lunches are common. Reiterating the Japanese culture of respect, business associates will often fill each other’s cups when eating. When business cards are given, place them on the table to show respect and carry your own cards with you throughout your trip. Having these cards printing in Japanese or learning a few words of the language is also advisable as it demonstrates respect and pre-preparation.

Doing business in Thailand

Although Thai customs may seem conservative to some westerners, local Thai people are unlikely to be insulted by a foreigner failing to follow etiquette.

That being said, courtesy is also very important in Thailand. Abiding by local customs is a way to show respect for the country and local people. Thailand is majority Buddhist. So, as a rule, images of Buddha and the royal family should be treated with respect. Do not point the soles of your feet in the direction of a Buddha or touch any sacred statues.

In terms of business etiquette, try to build a personal relationship before discussing business. Appointments should be made well in advance, and respect and politeness should always be maintained. Arrive on time and offer your business card with the right hand – take the time to read any card given to you. The business dress code in Thailand is generally conservative. Travel blog Just Landed advises foreigners not to wear black, as the colour is primarily worn at funerals. As in many other Asian countries, visitors should try to restrain from voicing any negative comments; as this can cause associates ‘to lose face’. In the same vein, visitors are advised to try not to point with one finger.

Expanding into the Asia-Pacific region

Learning local business etiquette can be time-consuming, but it is crucial to respect local cultures when doing business in-country. Overall, the most important thing for business relationships abroad is a willingness to learn and an enthusiasm to engage with locals and the culture. Not only will this be rewarded in business gains, but also by the strength of cross-cultural relationships.

Mauve Group has entities and solutions in Japan, Thailand, and Singapore and is ready to assist with any business needs.

We can also provide Value-added Services in the Asia-Pacific region. These services include cultural sensitivity training that specialises in local business customs; helping to facilitate a seamless international expansion.