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How to Master Business Etiquette in Indonesia

Indonesia is a beautiful and fascinating country with a very distinct culture and customs. The country is actually made up of a series of 17,500 islands located across the equator from the Australia. In Indonesia you will find many different cultures, languages and customs. However, it is also host to the largest Muslim population in the world. All of these factors combined can make the unique business etiquette of Indonesia quite disorientating for foreigners. But if you follow these steps hopefully you will not run into as much trouble.

The People

It is important to remember that Indonesia is made up of many different ethnicities and cultures, but the most predominant ones are the Indians, Chinese and Malays / Muslims. You will have to change certain behaviours depending on which group you are doing business with.

The family unit is still an important factor in all sectors of Indonesian society. As such hierarchy and seniority are extremely important to Indonesians.   


Communication

The official language is Bahasa Indonesian, but in reality most people also speak a regional dialect such as Javanese in the capital Java. You should also realise that saving face is extremely important to Indonesians. Do not be forceful when you say no or embarrass anyone and you will get a more positive response. Always remember that Indonesian people are very polite and want to save face at all times. Although many business people will speak English it would be prudent to hire a translator in order to ensure that your meetings are conducted as smoothly as possible.

Relationships

Relationships are extremely important to Indonesian businesses. Indonesians are generally unwilling to enter into a business arrangement with someone that they do not have a relationship with. As such you should enlist the help of a local partner or influential Indonesian to make the necessary introductions before you attempt to enter into negotiations.  

Doing business in Indonesia has been described as a chess game and that it is more about who you know rather than what you know.  So it is important to develop and maintain close business contacts preferably those with political connections.

It should not be viewed as unusual if some of your business negotiations are conducted on a golf course or over a meal. Socialising while conducting business is considered normal and just another part forming a better personal relationship.

Greetings

Meeting and greeting can be quite complicated for westerners in Indonesia. Men generally shake hands only with men and not women, especially if they are Muslim women. Men use a traditional Salaam head bow to meet and say good bye to an Indonesian woman. It is also possible that they may touch their chest after shaking hands in order to show that the greeting comes from the heart. It is usually appreciated if you reciprocate this gesture.

Titles are extremely important to Indonesians as they signify status so it is important to use someone’s title followed by their name. Many people in Indonesia also only have one name and if they have a longer name it is common for them to have a nick name. However, it is rude to use someone’s nickname unless they invite you to.   

Punctuality

Punctuality is not important to Indonesians. Time moves quite slowly and if you have an appointment for a meeting it is safe to assume that your host will be late. Even if you find this kind of mentality frustrating there is little that you can do about it as expecting people to hurry up is viewed as extremely rude. Even the negotiations will be a long drawn out process, with small talk and refreshments. However, this is all part of their efforts to get to know you better and form a better relationship.

Dress Code

The business dress code in Indonesia is quite conservative and formal. Men usually wear suits /jackets, shirts and ties. Women should also wear conservative business clothes, such as a blouse, pant and jacket. Women need to realise that due to the large Muslim population their clothes should not be too revealing.   

Business Cards

Indonesian attitudes towards business cards are similar towards many other Asian countries. Business cards must be treated with respect. You should both present and receive business cards with two hands.  It is important that you study business cards taking note of their titles and not just put them in your back pocket. Make sure to include any titles on your business card so that they can understand your status within the company.

Cards can be written in either English or Bahasa, however, it would be best to have a card with one side in English and one side in Bahasa. This will help business meetings to go as smoothly as possible.

Gift Giving

Gift giving is extremely common in Indonesia and can be critical in getting a business deal rolling, or the best terms possible. It can be a complicated process and is somewhat like a bribe, so it would be best to ask your local contact for advice on this matter.

The tips above can seem quite alien, especially to western business people, but if you follow them you will find that your business trip goes a lot smoother.

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