We’re all in the relationship business these days. This is especially true in Asia, where group dynamics play a major part in business decision-making and success. As individualistic Westerners, we often overlook how our Asian counterparts seek to determine where and how we fit into their hierarchy. But if you think about the word relationship for a moment, it speaks to a dynamic—involving two or more individuals or things.
Instead of focusing on the transaction when you visit Asia on business, here are eight practical tips to help you recognize the importance of relationship building in countries like China, India, Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia and South Korea.
- Rethink the length of your visit. Don’t just fly in and fly out, because getting to know you in social settings will invariably be part of your Asian counterpart’s idea of doing business. Accept social invitations, such as a guided island tour, attending a festival, or visiting a treasured cultural site, wherever possible.
- Research and cultivate local business connections and contacts before departure. Trust is earned in Asia by being introduced through a respected local intermediary that the network already knows and trusts. In some countries, like China for example, foreigners cannot do business unless they have a local business partner.
- The Asian way of doing business includes core values for each country. Learn what these are for each nation and follow them. For example, some of the core values in Malaysia include courtesy, modesty, silence, and humility.
- Understand the concept known as saving face, which means avoiding anything that would cause the other party to feel embarrassed or humiliated. This includes contradicting something they have just said or diminishing their status in front of team members.
- Age is an important status marker in Asia, where senior executives still expect and receive deference from younger team members. Be sure your team understands this and acts accordingly. For instance, expressing open disagreement with decisions that have been made would be inappropriate.
- Learn a few greetings in the native language– the effort will be appreciated and help break the ice. For example, Ni hao is Hello in Mandarin and Konnichi wa is Hello in Japanese. Practice bowing before visiting China, Japan and South Korea.
- Research your business counterpart’s belief system. Respect their cultural values before ordering beef or pork or drinking alcohol. Consult with a local or regional contact for advice regarding the ethnic dynamics in multicultural nations like Malaysia and Singapore.
- Practice the correct pronunciation of names beforehand. This is not just good manners, but avoids the potential for insult, especially in countries like India where names like Lakshmi and Ganesh are also names of Hindu Gods.
Building strong relationships is at the core of a successful business. Learn how to improve your relationships with AMA's communication resources and seminars: