8 Secrets to Building Successful Relationships in Asia

Over the last four decades, Asia has been a primary engine of global economic growth. This trumpets a call to action for all global CEOs: whether your company presently does business in Asia or not, you’d be well served to become culturally in tune with your Asian counterparts. Only then, as prime opportunities come knocking, can you build the most prosperous and profitable business relationships.

As an intercultural communication and international etiquette expert, I’ve closely studied the cultures in 10 Asian countries. And today, whether their focus is on belief systems or business attire, customs or communication styles, for executives to succeed in Asia, they must gain cultural awareness, country by country.

Here are 8 tips that can help make CEOs culturally aware.

“In many Asian countries,  making a decision without group input is avoided.”

1. Know how people prefer to act—individually or as a group. The terms individualism and collectivism refer to the tendency for cultures to be oriented toward the self or the group. In individualist cultures, such as Canada, Great Britain, and the United States, people consider themselves individually responsible when making decisions and deals. Conversely, people from collectivist cultures, common to Asia, prefer group representation in meetings and negotiations. In fact, in many Asian countries, including China and Singapore, making a decision without group input is avoided.

Fast fact: In Myanmar, people in senior-level positions are not as consensus seeking as leaders in other Southeast Asian cultures.

2. Know how power and authority are viewed. Globally, some cultures are ascriptive. This means that characteristics such as class, age, gender, and higher education are deemed more important than they are in achievement-oriented cultures. Consequently, power can be, and often is, held over people. In Asia, however, many countries consider power to be participative. Even higher-ups, in their positions of authority, can only guide, not direct, people in gaining consensus on decisions.

Fast fact: In Japan, companies are hierarchical, yet decision-making, even within large corporations, is a bottom-up, consensus-building process conducted in steps.

3. Know how people compare rules and relationships. A Chinese philosopher was asked why the East and West had developed such different habits of thought. “Because you had Aristotle and we had Confucius,” he replied. In the U.S., written rules are regarded as sacrosanct. Moreover, for most U.S. businesspeople, a contract is the relationship. Not so in most Asian cultures, where people see the world holistically, or comprised of completely interdependent relationships.

Fast fact: In China, where business agreements may be regarded as merely guidelines, the Chinese tend to be surprised by a Westerner’s refusal to renegotiate a price or contract.


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