Cultural sensitivities to keep in mind when doing business in Asia

Anybody who has been paying attention to markets over the past couple of decades can tell you that emerging markets is where its at when it comes to getting great returns.

Most industries in developed parts of the world have reached or passed the maturation phase, making the creation of real wealth effectively impossible for most investors.

However, many growth economies can still be found in Asia. From China to Indonesia, those willing to dive in head first have a great chance of finding investment opportunities that could earn them a considerable return on their cash.

However, life here is completely different compared to the West, making it challenging for new arrivals to adjust to the way business is done there.

Bob Stefanowski┬áhas built up significant experience in Asia, helping to run 3i Group’s interests in the region since 2009.

In that time, he has come to understand the special considerations one must make when trying to establish a foothold in this challenging part of the world.

In this post, we’ll go over several concepts you’ll need to comprehend before you can enjoy real success in Asia.

1) Rules vary greatly compared to those at home

As alluded to in the intro, the way things are done in Asia often represents a complete 180 to how we do things at home.

These societies have been influenced by schools of thought and religions like Confucianism, Buddhism, and Islam. As such, there are cultural considerations that can serve to throw an unexpected monkey wrench into your plans.

Planning meetings on a Friday won’t work in the Middle East, as this is the Sabbath Day in the Islamic calendar.

Even things like touching people on the head and pointing with your feet can get you into trouble in laid back countries like Thailand, as these gestures are highly offensive to Buddhists.

Have an executive assistant do in-depth research on a target country’s cultural beliefs before departure, as this will allow you to leave a good first impression.

2) Hand out business cards printed in their local language

An initial meeting might not end with a business deal. As such, it is always important to leave a new prospect your contact info.

Most do this by leaving their card, but few think to create a special batch before taking off for a place like China.

Your initial contact may understand English, but if your card is passed off to someone who only knows Mandarin, they won’t be able to get in touch with you.

By printing the other side in a second language, you expand your reach, and you leave a positive impression with those who know English as a second language.

3) Learn about the concept of ‘face’

Of all the things you’ll learn before heading off to Asia, the concept of ‘face’ is the most important concept you should internalize.

It is a sociological concept which refers to one’s personal or family prestige. Many people in Asian countries are obsessed about how others view them, leading them to go to extraordinary lengths to build up a reputation and to protect it.

Any action that may embarrass your hosts should be avoided at all costs. Avoid putting your contacts on the spot, as they may say yes even if they might not be able to deliver. If they fail, they’ll end up losing face, which could have bad consequences for you.

Instead, be patient in your dealings with Asian business contacts, and you’ll eventually end up in a situation where you will be able to get what you want.