Business in Asia Life’s a little bit different here… If you’re not well prepared, you can end up getting quite a culture shock when conducting business here in Asia! By far the most important thing to have is a good amount of patience, and a high tolerance for consuming alcohol will also come in handy.  

Kim Otten

What it all comes down to, is that building a relationship with your client first, is key to doing any business.

Respect is an important part of conducting business. This all starts with the introduction where you, in most cases, bow and not immediately shake hands the first time. Next is the exchange of business cards that are handed over respectfully holding it with two hands. My business card collection now consists of over a thousand cards in just 6 months!

Food is a big thing here. Don’t ever make the mistake of trying to squeeze in a meeting during lunch time, you will not be scoring any points with your clients (or your colleagues). So forget talking about contracts and details first but focus on what restaurant to take your client to and how many bottles of wine to order. It’s not so much about the quality of the wine, as it’s about the quantity and how many toasts you can survive. And definitely don’t serve your guests any cold food like salads or sandwiches. The table should be filled with many warm dishes to choose from. After some wine the language barrier you always have will also disappear and after a lot of laughs and maybe some karaoke you have earned their respect.

Once the relationship is established and a bond of trust is formed you can start the business talk. Do remember that all decisions are made by the big boss, so don’t waste time talking to the wrong people in the organization as this will get you nowhere.

Once you start with the day to day business it is key to figure out what they really mean when they say yes, is that a real yes or do they actually mean no? So always double confirm via email or any other digital messenger platform as it is often easier saying no in writing. This will save you many wrong assumptions and weird situations. This again comes down to respecting each other. Never be direct and always keep a straight face. Don’t ever show anger or frustration. You have a mutual goal so always focus on the solution.

Keep in mind every country in Asia is different and they each have their own rich culture. If you keep an open mind, it is great to get to know all these differences and you will learn what works in one country, won’t work in another. The one thing that all Asian countries do have in common is their love for food and taking the time to bond over a good meal. This is something we can learn from Asia, forget the business for a while and focus on the people and the culture. Invest time in the people first and the business part will surely follow. An added bonus is that you’ll find that the business part will run a lot smoother once you’ve taken the time to get to know each others background and culture!

Not a meeting, just a dinner!
Not a meeting, just a dinner!