Long-Term Win-Win Business Relationships in or with Asia

As an Australian with Asian heritage, I have been often asked by my Australian counterparts, clients and friends, ” why do you need to worry about culture – after all we live in a globalised world. Isn’t business the same everywhere?”

From the Asian investors and friends, they would asked me, “How can we do win-win business deals with Australians when they do not understand our Asian culture in our own Asia market?”

The answer is actually “NO” and the reason is more deep-rooted than you might think. It is not simply about business etiquette. The cultural subtleties that influence international business reach far beyond the ability to greet your Asian counterpart correctly or choose an appropriate gift for a particular situation or present your business card in the right way.

Whether you are doing business in China, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia or any of the Asian markets, your knowledge of an Asian culture’s attitude to time and punctuality, whether the society is more collectivist in behaviour than individualist, the nuances of respect and hierarchy, are some of the top ten key elements.

 Why?   Such knowledge can really affect your understanding of the gentleman waiting for you in the next office or the executive  lady across the table at a business lunch, be it in your local Australian office or in an Asian city.   Above all, it can affect your own chances of being correctly understood, respected and to be trusted for long term win-win business deals.

Yes, we are indeed living in a world of globalised business. However, the ubiquity of the internet and social media are no guarantee of avoiding unnecessary blunders (even insults!) towards your Asian hosts or customers.

Some of the blunders to avoid when doing business in Asia are:

  • Ignorance of whom you are really dealing with may actively destroy your chances of building personal knowledge. Without that, you cannot create the kind of credibility and trust that engenders long-term success and Asia business is all about long-term relationships.
  • The way you frame your e-mails can jeopardise relationships across cultures. English may be a common language, but in many countries of Asia, this common language platform conceals a strong attachment to local languages, customs, dialects and deep-rooted beliefs.


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.  Depending on the particular economy and how deeply Western models influence it, communication is largely indirect.

A straightforward ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is not usually offered to a direct question, especially in a country like Japan and China. On the other hand, Asians are often persistent, if passive negotiators.

By contrast, 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 casual. Or all combined!

Of course there is nothing wrong with getting to the point in business negotiations. However, in Asia, it is generally considered more appropriate to take these negotiations step-by-step, drawing in and referring to each person or department responsible for each aspect of the deal.

When all parties are fully convinced that their concerns are covered, the trust is built that may eventually ensure a long-term relationship.  For those who are unwilling or unable to spend sufficient time in Asia to achieve this, a parachute in-and-out visit will not be of much assistance in addition to your loss of time, efforts and money spent.

Your company’s local representative must maintain ongoing contact with your proposed partner. Trust must be developed to the extent that your Asian partner or client is assured of the TOTAL VALUE of the deal in the LONG TERM.

For Asian business people, this is far preferable to short-term business deals that always have to begin again from scratch when the next step is negotiated.

Hope you have enjoyed and benefited from this blog post.

Best wishes,

Rachael Mah

CEO – AusAsia Training Institute Pty Ltd,

Melbourne, Australia