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BUSINESS ETIQUETTE IN SINGAPORE

Think global, act local! Nothing could be truer of business decorum in the city-state, which is a place where Eastern and Western cultures and businesses meet, but may potentially collide if certain things are not taken into account.

For most businesspeople, the prospect of travelling to a new foreign country can be both exciting yet daunting, especially if it is a business trip, as negotiations with people of diff erent cultures may seem like venturing into the unknown. What to say and what not to say? How to be polite and not off ensive? How should you dress? What would clinch the deal or what could lose it? Th ese are but some of the many questions swirling in the head of a business traveller. So what is considered proper business etiquette in Singapore, and what are the things to watch out for? In general, Singaporeans are a very respectful people, forgiving of any cultural faux pas made. It would, however, be prudent to know a few basics and get off to a good start, as fi rst impressions count in any culture!

The First Encounter

When handing over your business card, it is important that you hold it with both your hands at its edges, with your name facing the person. Ideally, wait for your Singaporean counterparts to initiate the exchange, as very oft en the most senior ranking offi cer will introduce himself or herself fi rst. Upon receiving the cards, take some time to study it to learn the person's name. It is acceptable to ask how it is properly pronounced in order not to make a mistake. Th is acts as a sign of respect by demonstrating interest in the person. Should you wish to make a comment about the name or ask a question, this is perfectly acceptable and will probably break the ice. Do not then pocket the cards just received; when you are seated around a table with several people, place them in front of you on the table. Th is will again act as a sign of respect, as the card is really an extension of the person, and will also help you to memorise who is who in the meeting.

Face to Face Across the Table!

Before even sitting down, you need to choose your seat carefully, as more etiquette surrounds this. In the event that your business contacts are Chinese, as over 70 per cent of Singaporeans are, it would be advisable that you sit with your back to the door. In Chinese culture, it is always important for them to see an exit and, typically, they do not like their backs facing the door.

Dress Sense

At this stage, having gone through the initial steps of Singaporean decorum, you may suddenly start to see things that seem a little odd, or even off , compared to our Western habits!
Firstly, you may in many circumstances note that your counterparts are not wearing jackets or ties even! Should you, dressed to the nines, feel off ended? Certainly not. By no means is the host showing any disrespect to you or not taking the meeting seriously. Th is is simply because Singapore is a hot and humid place not conducive to wearing layers of clothes. Should this situation arise, it is fi ne to be dressed smartly, but it is also fi ne to joke about it and then lose both tie and jacket. As a rule of thumb, sectors such as banking and law are likely to be dressed in full business attire, while manufacturing sectors may be more relaxed. It is better to come a little overdressed than underdressed, as the former can be overcome very quickly.

Negotiation Skills

Typically, Singaporeans, like all Asians, can be demanding in business. Th ey like to feel that they have won and won big, though as time passes, this seems to be less the case. It is best to prepare for some leeway in discussions and build this into the pricing prior to the meeting, so that any potential reduction in prices, which will make the host feel good, will go down well. Conversely, you need to know when to stand your ground. Th e best approach in this case is to be clear, and put this across in a calm and concise manner, and let them know where the bottom line is to be drawn. Th ere is no place for rudeness or aggressiveness, but fi rmness is acceptable.
If at any point the host is factually incorrect, present this as not their fault, as Asians like to save face. If they lose face, you are likely to lose them as customers. It takes time to build up relationships in Asia, so patience is key. However, when you have succeeded in doing so, Singaporeans will become true friends.
Humour is a good way to disengage from potentially tricky situations. It is also perfectly acceptable, and indeed encouraged, to talk about each other's business and personal life as Singaporeans always seek to learn and are curious by nature, and this will also create a stronger bond with your counterparts. Further ways to strengthen ties are to be aware of Singaporean public holidays and prepare appropriate gift s. Th e more understanding you have of local culture, the more this will go down well.

Food, Glorious Food!

Food is central to Singaporean culture. It will more than likely be a topic of conversation and the host will no doubt wish to have lunch or dinner with you. It would be very off ensive to refuse such an invitation. Try the local delights, but if you do not like anything, it is acceptable to say so. However, being able to use chopsticks (even if you have the skill level of a fouryear- old Singaporean) and take spicy food will go a long way in impressing your hosts and securing that high-value deal.
And now that you are armed to the teeth with the right business etiquette, happy meetings!

Text Irina Gazoukina
Illustrations Ekaterina Protsenko

 

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