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
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
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.
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.
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
And now that you are armed to the teeth with the
right business etiquette, happy meetings!
Text Irina Gazoukina
Illustrations Ekaterina Protsenko