One of the biggest concerns that expats have when relocating abroad for a job is how they will fit in culturally to their new workplace surroundings. You may be an expert in your field, have all the right skills and qualifications to succeed in the new job, but without having a clear idea of the business etiquette practiced in the country, you could quickly find that it is much harder to succeed than you thought.
If you are from a country outside of the Asian continent, your business customs will likely be much different to those enforced in your chosen Asian country. You should note however that each country in Asia (China, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, The Philippines and other Pacific countries) will adopt their own specific business etiquette so it is always best to check the customs for individual countries.
This article provides an insight into the general business etiquette and customs of countries in Asia to give you an idea about what you should expect!
- Whilst a handshake is the ‘norm’ for many of us, some business professionals in Asia will prefer to bow, and eye contact is rarely made.
- It is acceptable for you to bow also as a sign of respect. Typically, the more senior the person the lower the bow.
- In the Philippines, unlike in many other Asian countries, eye contact is acceptable where as bowing is not.
- Surnames are used first in a ‘three-name’ series, whilst in Thailand, “Khun” is used in place of saying the word “Mr”.
- Conservative suits are expected of both men and women in the office.
- Women should avoid revealing clothing, short skirts and short sleeved blouses, and refrain from wearing high heels if possible.
- Men should wear subtly colored business suits with good shoes. Ties are the norm whilst flashiness in the form of expensive watches or jewelry is frowned upon.
- Whilst nodding or bowing is generally accepted as a greeting amongst business professionals, you may find that you are offered a handshake based on the fact that this is a common greeting for internationals.
- When introducing someone or when being introduced by another, it should be done in a formal way with the use of titles.
- Punctuality is considered to be paramount. As the Chinese say, “better never than late!”
- Be careful with the use of common gestures. The common ‘okay’ hand sign is used in the UK and USA, means ‘money’ in Japan. This could make communicating very complicated if you are not up to date with the country’s proper business etiquette.
- It is important to have your own professional business cards with your full name, formal title, job title and contact details.
- It is expected for you to exchange business cards during meetings.
- Always present and accept a business card with both hands, spend a minute or so looking at it, and then put it somewhere safe (not your jacket pocket or wallet) – this is a sign of respect.
- Never write on a business card.
- Avoid making big hand gestures when speaking. In China for example, this can be considered rude and distracting for the other person.
- Avoid standing too close when talking to a Chinese business professional and never point with your finger.
- Personal contact is considered to be very unprofessional and improper in public, especially between a man and a woman.
- Never discuss business during a meal.
- This is a delicate issue in Asia, in particular China.
- Never give a gift to an official who works for the government.
- Acceptable gifts for your business host include banquet and good quality pens.
- Never give any of the following gifts: clocks, handkerchiefs, gifts that are colored white, blue or black.
Asia is a region where business etiquette is extremely important and also extremely different to our own. That is why it is imperative that you know how to act before you arrive in order either to gain or retain employment.