Asian countries are considered to be ‘high context’ cultures. In a high context culture many things are left unsaid, letting the culture do the explaining except for some international cities like Singapore and Hong Kong.
Due to their social and cultural upbringing, Asians believe they must know and trust someone before they are willing to enter into a business agreement or make a business decision. Depending on the particular economy and how deeply influenced it is by Western models, communication is largely indirect and reliant on tone of voice, gestures, behaviour at formal occasions and respect systems.
Overall, Asians are extremely sensitive about face: Giving face, osing face, saving face to another person.
The Chinese, Singaporeans, Malaysians, Indonesians, Thais and Japanese are extremely reluctant to say ‘no’, for example, or even concede that there is a problem, and will usually give an impenetrable answer to a straight question in order to hide their real thought or meaning. Thais and Filipinos may reluctantly agree to something, only to forget all about it when you are conveniently off the scene. Thais hide their horror of confrontation behind smiles. Bahasa Indonesian, the language of Indonesia, has more than 10 ways to say ‘NO’.
Westerners largely come from ‘low context’ cultures. They communicate directly, get to the point and move on quickly in business so as not to waste time, even if they don’t know someone well. Action and getting down to business are viewed as priorities, which often means that ‘high context’ Asians view their Western counterparts as impatient, insincere or arrogant. Or all three together!
If you can understand the basic of cultural communication and business etiquette in Asia markets, you put yourself in a much better position to negotiate successfully and create new partnerships. To achieve this goal, it’s worth a lot of time, money and resources to do your homework. The gains in performance are immense and lucrative for the long run.
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