Rob O’Byrne and his professional team are no strangers to working with businesses in the Asia-Pacific region. Aside from their experiences helping Asian companies in the course of consulting projects, Rob’s company, Logistics Bureau has offices based in Thailand and Vietnam, as well as four in Australia.
Like anyone from the West who works or does business in the Asia-Pacific region though, Rob and his colleagues were all once newbies to business culture in the region. No doubt they would have liked the benefit of some online tips on Asia-Pacific business trips and the cultural differences they should expect to encounter.
3 Tips to Prepare for Your Trip
Unfortunately, Rob and Co. are all a bit too late to benefit from this blog post, but you’re not. So if you’re expecting to head off on an Asia-Pacific business trip (or will be working in that region for a period of time) take note of the following three tips to prepare for business in the mystic, marvellous east.
1. It Pays to Study the Society
Countries in the Asia-pacific region are quite diverse, and business customs and etiquette will not be the same in one country as in another. For example, you will probably be entering a country dominated by a strong religious faith, which might be:
- Islam, in Malaysia for example
- Buddhism, in most Asia-Pacific countries
- Roman Catholicism, if you will be heading to the Republic of Philippines
While you might not expect religious customs to make much of an impact on business, they do in Southeast Asia. To reduce culture shock as much as possible therefore, it can really pay to spend some time researching societal customs and values in the specific country (or countries) that you will be visiting.
Your research should not be restricted to the religious environment though. Other societal matters, such as the importance of hierarchy and respect, attitude to time and punctuality, and even family values will all impact the way in which business is conducted in the different countries of the region.
If you know about some of these things before you go, at least you won’t be taken so much by surprise when you begin attending meetings or working with local business leaders, managers, and staff.
2. Face is Everything
No … we’re not suggesting you have to have a pretty face to do business or work in the Asia-Pacific region. The concept of “face” is really all about reputation, and avoiding feelings of embarrassment or shame. “Losing face” is the perceived consequence of being criticised in front of other people or being on the receiving end of another person’s display of anger or impatience.
This concept is vital to understand, because when you follow western business customs (which encourage open speaking), you can easily offend and cause a loss of face, albeit unintentionally. This will not be good news for you if you are trying to build business relationships.
To prevent such a situation from arising, your preliminary research should include a study of behaviours considered rude, embarrassing or undesirable in your destination country. You might be surprised at some of the things which are considered a no-no, like for example slapping someone on the back in a show of camaraderie.
3. Business Cards Are a Big Deal
In most Asia-Pacific countries-despite the highly connected age we live in-the exchange of business cards is still an important custom when meeting new business contacts. If you don’t currently use business cards, now might be a good time to have a batch designed and printed.
Remember too, to have the most important information printed in the language of the country/countries that you will visit, even if that means using a card printed on two sides, with the local language on one side, and details in English on the other.
Immerse Yourself in Asia-Pacific Cultures
It doesn’t matter which Southeast Asian country you visit, as long as prepare yourself for the cultural differences, both in terms of business and social interaction, you should have no problem fitting in and enjoying your time. Each of the countries in this region is fascinating in its own unique way.
The three tips above will help you to prepare for your time in the East, but I can’t stress enough, the more time you spend studying Asian cultures in advance, the more you will be able to enjoy doing business in Asian countries.
The best way to ensure a successful Asia-Pacific business trip is to become immersed in the cultures you encounter, and take time to learn about life both inside and outside of the Asian workplace. Not only will your efforts be welcomed and respected—you’ll also have more experiences to remember and cherish in the future.