Are you thinking about taking your business to other markets and expanding beyond Europe into Asia- Pacific?
Taking the leap into Asian markets can be daunting – especially given the challenge of operating across very different cultures with specific rules and etiquette.
Having acquired a Tokyo-based business, here are a few lessons I’ve learnt.
THE EMPHASIS OF THE MANY OVER THE FEW
In Japan, China and Korea, people tend to identify themselves as a member of a group rather than as a lone individual.
While in the West, we are taught to value independence, personal goals, and individual achievements, when doing business in Asia, bear in mind that the harmony and unity of the group is always preferenced over the expression of individual opinions.
THE VITAL ART OF SAVING FACE
In the UK, we’re often encouraged to speak our mind. This is in direct contrast to what many Asian children will have grown up learning. The concept of saving face and not losing face is so deeply woven through many Asian societies that it governs many relationships, including business ones.
To deliberately or accidentally cause someone (even if it is yourself) to lose standing, dignity or influence among peers, colleagues or business acquaintances is a faux pas that is rarely forgiven.
THE ETIQUETTE OF FIGHTING TO PAY A BILL
As is the case here, sharing meals in Asia is key to building trust and understanding in business.
It’s important to note, however, that when out for formal business meals in China or Hong Kong, offering to go Dutch is rare, and even seen unfavourably – as is checking the bill, or asking staff for any clarification of costs.
A good rule of thumb is that you should always offer a couple of times to pay, but let the inviting party make the call.
THE POWER OF THE BUSINESS CARD
In most Asian cultures – and it’s particularly true in Japan – a business card serves as an extension of your identity, and announces your position in the hierarchy.
When meeting anyone for the first time, there should be a certain level of ceremony applied to exchanging cards.
The eldest and most senior individuals will give out their cards first, and you will be expected to accept any that are offered with both hands, express gratitude, and then carefully study and memorise it.
Under no circumstances should you put business cards in your back pocket, or loose in your wallet – always keep them in a business card holder, and never write on them.
It’s also good practice and often appreciated if your own business cards are dual-sided, with one side printed in the local language.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF QUIET
In many cultures, silence itself is a form of communication, and an important part of the discussion.
However in the East, where introversion is more dominant culturally, silence is considered a virtue.
So if things go quiet during a meeting, don’t panic – consideration is taking place. Try not to interrupt or break it.
Cultural differences aren’t the only thing you’ll face when doing business in Asia-Pacific – there are the fluctuating market conditions, along with straightforward factors like language barriers.
But it’s important to be aware of the nuances attached to them, and show your associates and customers that you are at least making an effort to embrace their culture.