As the old adage goes “It is better to deal with God than with his saints”. All too often I have observed US company representatives, when visiting their suppliers in Asia, meet with bright engineers who can converse proficiently in English but seldom with the actual decision makers. Among other things that can derail an otherwise well planned business trip, this one is deceiving and easy to overlook.
I don’t have to tell you that the success of a trip overseas often hinges around who you speak with, about what and when.
Asian hospitality is characterized by respect, humility and courtesy but westerners often misread the signs along the way.
Personal relationships matter and it is important to connect with the right person in the organization. At Kusu we pride ourselves on having a solid grasp of our partner organization and our role is to guide you through complex org charts. It will save your company time and money.
In Asia people tend to be more restrained with their emotions and more quiet in their communications. You should not be uncomfortable with moments of silence. Your host will use them to reflect before answering a question. Westerners are often too eager to fill in the blanks when remaining calm and poised is the better attitude.
Age and seniority are also important factors. In many Asian countries decision-making is likely to be in the hands of older managers who have earned their position over the years. In America the age of a manager is not seen as important while in other cultures there is a sense of respect for older people that translates into the workplace.
Food is inherently part of the business culture. While my US coworkers enjoy eating a simple, quick meal at their computer, it is a totally different story in Singapore. People love food. After a few days in Singapore be prepared for the most common question: what is your favorite dish? Never refuse an invitation to lunch or dinner. I’ve often seen my hosts place an unusual delicacy on my plate with a big smile on their face while scrutinizing my reaction. When you are finished with a course always leave some food on your plate or your host will give you another serving.
Finally, little gifts are always appreciated. They show respect and consideration but be wary of timing and make sure that you give it to the right person.
In a globalized world we tend to assume that the world has become so flat that there are no differences in business manners between countries. That’s the wrong approach and I hope these tips will serve you well.