Asia Business Etiquette
Doing business in ChinaI often find client’s eyes glazing over when I talk about business etiquette, and their eyes close completely when I go on to business etiquette in Asia.
It sounds so boring, doesn’t it? “Etiquette” suggests the position of knives and forks on the table, protocols for meeting royalty, exchanging toasts at a wedding, that kind of thing.
And as for business etiquette in Asia, what’s that? Something to do with whom should talk first on the phone or whether you can interrupt a colleague at a presentation. If they ever stop to think about it, the points to observe on business etiquette could be written down on the back of an envelope.
Business etiquette is hardly something that stands in the way of a deal. A transaction is carried out through logical moves and counter-moves, offers and counter-offers, a slap on the back and a handshake.
Business the Asian way
However, in Asia the way things are done in other parts of the world might not automatically apply. That’s because etiquette, and its close cousin culture, not only influence the way business is done. They ARE the way business is done. They are at the heart of your competitive intelligence.
Unlike Westerners, Asians emphasize the importance of the group rather than the individual. In general, they conduct business, make decisions and socialize as a group. So it’s no use expecting to walk in, say “hail fellow, well met!” and sign that contract.
Anyone wanting to establish an essential business relationship in Asia must be present for long periods of time, must be able to enjoy the country in which they find themselves, and must get to know its residents.
Asian business etiquette is not just about knowing how to present a business card, what gifts to give and not give, how to eat with chopsticks or spoon and fork, or how to address people.
Fabric of Asian societies
Etiquette reflects beliefs and cultural habits that are the fabric of Asian societies. It is the way Japanese, Thai, Malaysian, Chinese, Filipino, Korean or Vietnamese show respect to each other. It is the way they blend in and interact, showing pride in their cultures and beliefs. It is essential, for example, for doing business in China.
So if you want to be accepted as a trustworthy, credible person and good friend, you’d better forget about how you do things at home, and put in your homework on business etiquette and culture.
The assumptions, values and beliefs that Asians use on a day-to-day basis are what make them tick. If you want to do business in Asia, you have to follow those unconscious, subtle and often indirect rules of business.
Asia Scotland Institute Fellow David Clive Price helps companies, SMEs and entrepreneurs to build profitable partnerships and target their brands and products in Asia markets
You can follow him on Twitter @DavidClivePrice