Cultural Clues for Doing Business in Asia
Numerous countries and cultures often have shared characteristics that are based on the origin of their mother tongue languages, environment, climate, and ethnic background, among other things. While each Asian country certainly has its own unique culture distinctions, there are also many similarities in cultural etiquette and communication styles between the Asian/Pacific cultures as the following 21 clues identify.
1. Many members of Asian cultures have three names, the first usually being the family name. This is important to know when addressing someone, especially in e-mail. Surnames (Mr., Ms., or the equivalent in the language of the culture) are still frequently used some cultures.
2. Handshaking is common and is often accompanied by a slight nod or bow. A light, rather gentle grip is appropriate for handshakes. A very firm handshake may suggest aggression.
3. Dual-language business cards are recommended and are offered with both hands grasped between thumb and forefingers. Your title or position should always be on the card. Upon receiving a card, read it carefully and keep it near you for future reference. Never casually toss it in a pocket or handbag.
4. These cultures emphasize giving great respect to the elderly. To them, age is synonymous with wisdom and experience. Greet and speak to elders first, hold doors open for them, rise when they enter the room, give up your seat if need be, and remove glasses when addressing them.
5. Asian cultures are punctual, formal, polite, and structured when it comes to business. The personal side of a business relationship and trust is extremely important, so relationships can take longer to develop.
6. Good eye contact is appropriate, although it won’t be prolonged. Asian cultures often avert their eyes to avoid the intimidation that long, frequent eye contact might create.
7. Many Asian cultures have large populations and it’s necessary to stand very close together on public transportation and in lines. However, they tend to stand farther apart than many other cultures when engaged in business interactions.
8. These cultures are apt to be more process-oriented in business than many Western cultures, which tend to be more results-oriented. In Asian cultures, the style and how something is done is equally as important as what is done.
9. Politeness, humility, patience, harmony, and grace are appreciated and respected. Avoid using any excessively demonstrative behavior or raising your voice too loud.
10. These are not “touching” cultures, so avoid back patting, putting an arm around someone’s shoulders, hugs, and so on.
11. Posture and balance are very important. Avoid slouching or putting your feet on desks and chairs. While seated, it is customary to place the hands in the lap and not fidget or wiggle the legs.
12. Never cross your legs with the foot resting on the knee. It is considered disrespectful and may result in unintentionally pointing the sole of your shoe at someone. It is a serious insult to show the soles of your shoes in most of the Asian cultures.
13. When pointing to something, do so with an open hand rather than one or two fingers, because beckoning with the index is considered very rude. Do not snap your fingers, wink, whistle, or blow your nose in a handkerchief and put in a pocket or handbag.
14. These cultures prefer more indirect communication and hate to disappoint or disagree. As a result, they rarely say “no” directly. Instead they may say, “Maybe,” or “That could be difficult”—which usually means “no.”
15. Don’t be alarmed if there are frequent periods of silence in your dinner or business conversations; silence is a sign of politeness and contemplation.
16. The Asian cultures see patience as a virtue. Although decisions often come from the top, they are made by consensus after considerable discussion so often take longer.
17. Asian cultures are very careful to give group or team credit rather than taking personal credit, because it is rare that only one person is solely responsible for accomplishing something.
18. Avoid singling anyone out or causing any type of embarrassment, because this will result in loss of face. In Asian cultures, someone who has a “good face” (simply referred to as face) has a good reputation with his or her peers, business colleagues, and community. Having face is a bankable notion that is literally a statement of a person’s value.
19. Asian cultures are typically gift-giving cultures. The ritual of gift giving is typically more important than the value of the gift. Never give a clock, handkerchief, white flowers, scissors, or knives as a gift, because these have negative connotations associated with them.
20. There tend to be fewer young men or women in the higher levels of the business hierarchy in these cultures. Age is synonymous with wisdom, experience, rank, seniority, and loyalty when it comes to promotion.
21. When dining in these cultures, it’s best to follow the “When in Rome, do as the Romans” motto, because habits and customs vary greatly between the individual countries. Sharing meals is vital to building friendships and social relationships that foster trust and understanding in business relationships.
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