What to know before venturing into Asia
Understanding Asian regions
Asia is a vast continent made up of many countries, each with their own unique characteristics, languages, cultures, histories, and political and economic alliances.
While it is important to understand a country’s economic policies, local business laws, administrative costs and rules, other important socio-cultural factors should also be considered, as they could make all the difference to your business’ success in Asia.
Local business customs and culture
Each Asian country has its own way of doing business, not just in terms of business transactions but also social interactions inside and outside of the office. Hence, it is extremely important to understand a country’s local customs and etiquette and behave accordingly. Doing so will help to build trust, understanding and confidence with others, and will lead to successful and longstanding business partnerships.
For instance, ensuring you have the appropriate facial expressions and body language is important to avoid being perceived as rude or impolite such as pointing fingers or touching someone’s head. The language and terms used for business may also be more formal than in social settings, particularly in countries such as Japan and China. Business may also be conducted over food and drinks, particularly during introductory meals or social drinks. Hence, seemingly minor details such as seating arrangement, dining etiquette and conversational topics could make or break a business relationship.
You should also be mindful that what’s acceptable in one country could be considered rude in another – for instance, clocks are associated with death in Chinese culture and should not be presented as a gift to a Chinese counterpart.
The concept of “face”
Courtesy and respect are of utmost importance in Asia. This ties in with the concept of “face”, which, broadly speaking, is to show respect and regard for someone and not to cause them shame or embarrassment, especially in front of others (regardless of how right you may be). Business hierarchies will require decisions to be cleared with superiors, so you should not pressure your counterparts into making immediate business decisions. Rather, let them discuss things with their bosses first. Above all, never lose your temper or use bullying tactics.
Asian countries tend to focus on building personal relationships on top of business relations. Group dynamics and hierarchy are considered more important than individual autonomy. An introduction is preferred to a cold call, and you should address someone by his title with honorifics as opposed to just their name.
Making connections would be much smoother if you know people in the country who are willing and able to introduce you to potential business partners. It is important to cultivate these relationships to build up your business in the region and discover otherwise hidden opportunities.
Asia Society Policy Institute. “Countries & Regions”. Accessed September 6, 2021. https://asiasociety.org/policy-institute/regions
Cegos. “Doing Business in Asia – Important Etiquette Tips”. Accessed September 6, 2021. https://www.cegos.com.sg/insights/doing-business-in-asia-important-etiquette-tips/
Giguere, Julie. “Top 5 Tips for Doing Business in Asia”. Published July 25, 2018. https://www.europeanceo.com/business-and-management/top-5-tips-for-doing-business-in-asia/
Henderson, Andrew. “Doing Business in Asia: How to Save Face”. Last updated December 24, 2019. https://nomadcapitalist.com/expat/save-face-asia/
Robinson, Poppy. “Cultural Advice on Doing Business in Asia”. Accessed September 6, 2012. https://www.braleino.co.uk/us/cultural-advice-on-doing-business-in-asia