5 Things to Know Before Building Asian Business Relationships

In the US, there are acceptable ways of acting that we often don’t give a second thought. It’s natural to share your achievements and successes, it’s often expected that you insert your opinion and perspectives, and causal language is acceptable everywhere.

This is not the case when doing business in Asia.

So before you head out to meet with Chinese investors or potential Japanese partners, keep in mind these cultural expectations.

  1. In Asian cultures, self-promotion is often looked down upon as bragging, as is a turn-off when trying to build a business relationship. When you’re chatting or building a relationship with an Asian counterpart, focus on contribution rather than self-promotion. If they initiated the relationship, they already know who you are and why you are valuable. If you want to keep the conversation going, show them what you can accomplish, don’t focus on verbally sharing your past performance.
  2. Hierarchy is valued in many Asian cultures, particularly when doing business with Chinese or Japanese partners (this usually includes those of Chinese heritage, not just those living in China.) Be mindful of the hierarchy in meetings, conversations and even with your feedback. For example, direct the conversation to the ‘highest’ person on the team; that should also be the person you hand your business card to first. Even though you may be from a less hierarchical structure, respecting the hierarchy is important so show the same respect by having the most important person on your side of the team do most of the talking and leading of the relationship/business deal.
  3. In many Asian countries, a certain formality is expected in writing emails. Find the specific expectations of the region and follow protocol. For example, Singaporeans generally begin with “Dear” while in Phillipines they begin with “good day” and in Japan they have even more specific formats.  “Hey” is not the way to charm your way into the the hearts of Asian consumers.
  4. Practice the art of listening. In the US, we’re used to quickly sharing our feedback and providing commentary-whether we’re asked for it or not. Americans are taught to speak up and often respect those with lots of insights to share. Asians, on the other hand, are a culture that values listening. They often listen, process, and then offer feedback. It’s not unusual to have a meeting with a no conclusion, only to come back together a short while later, after everyone has time to think about the issues, to actually come up with an action plan. Leaving your Asian partners and consumers time to process and think in business meetings is very important to build respect and achieve maximum communication.
  5. Similar to Americans, language is a strong area of security for Asian. Just as we may feel very uncomfortable when people can not speak English, most Asians experience extreme discomfort communicating in any language with which they don’t have proficiency. While there are plenty of business leaders across the region who do speak English, most are not comfortable with it. Before you connect with Asian partners/investors/consumers, be sure you are communicating with them in a language that puts them at ease and allows them to express themselves fully. Finding a local partner is often the most helpful way to ease communication.