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CULTURAL DIFFERENCES IN BUSINESS CUSTOMS

When it comes to working overseas especially where people’s mindsets are quite not alike as in your home country, there are tons of things to be aware of. Culture is one of them. We all can’t deny that among 7.2 billion people [1], 196 countries on Earth [2], there are numerous culture styles, an indefinite number of cultural differences, which make up a common category: “Cultural Diversity”. The world’s cultural diversity is often divided into West culture (Europe, America) and East culture (India, Asia and Middle East). In terms of business customs, 5 these main concepts are usually covered:  Hierarchy, Individualism, Personal Relationships, Communication and Time.

Hierarchy
Proven by experts and sociologists, workers in Eastern countries tend to emphasize their status of hierarchy more than in Western countries.

In Eastern countries, it is termed or hierarchy with more levels, in which people should make a clear vision of their social place. The last decision is made by the top people, which shows more .

Whereas, the hierarchy in Western countries may be taken as the , in which people in higher positions will try to make their subordinates feel the equality among all the staff (truly or at least on the surface). For instance, each opinion or idea is totally welcome and the last decision is based on team members’ feedback, or people are invited to call their superiors by his/her first name. That somehow can be considered as a form of.

Individualism
It is easy to differ the East and the West when referring to individualism, the West highlights while by the East. It can be translated in business as when contribution of each individual is taken seriously and is publicly rewarded in Western countries. In contrast, in Eastern countries, people are more likely to take every success as the contribution of the whole team, all shares the same award. As a result, this feature leads to various working styles between the West and the East, one is and the other is . As an example, workers in the West may find themselves more competitive than in the East, where people tend to be more in a harmony due to agriculture-based socio-economy.

Personal Relationships
 

Regarding the relationships in business, there are clearly 2 opposite sides of the same matter, which may be very useful to take a deeper inside, especially for international entrepreneurs. People in the West might prefer formal meetings to engage in business. People in the East instead are more likely to cooperate with others based on their personal relationships, which requires time and trust to strongly establish. To get a further insight, Japan is a typical country for this habit where Nomikai (drinking party) has become a common event for every worker after a working day [3]. No wonder why this Asian country also gains much fame for being the home of Karaoke – another common after-work leisure activity.

Communication
With result-oriented working style as mentioned above, Western business communication may approach “just the facts”, which is sometimes considered as being “cold and brusque or even rude” in Eastern countries. In US, people do not hesitate to criticize each other in meetings, they will lay all of their colleagues’ mistakes on the table. They also tend to use direct refusals.
 

On the other side of the globe, Eastern people have a solid concept of “face” which they don’t want to “lose” in front of other people. Therefore, they tend to show harmony in every aspect of their working life, from not to publicly criticize others to avoid directly saying No to others. That holds true meaning for almost all of Asian countries.

Time
Last but not least, time is a concept which is not really dominance but should not be forgotten. Western people may take time as money while Eastern people as life. Westerners try their best to come to the meetings on time or without much delay. Easterners, on the other hand, may arrive a little bit later.

Moreover, in Western countries, people have a tendency to work without many meetings or if there have to be a meeting, it will be short and goes straight to the point. On the contrary, in Eastern countries, meetings take place more often and pretty much longer.

Getting to know the cultural differences between the West and the East is indeed necessary or even vital for each expat since “Peace is not unity in similarity but unity in diversity, in the comparison and conciliation of differences.” Mikhail Gorbachev (Russian Politician, Environmentalist, Social Activist, 1990 Nobel Peace Prize

[1] http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/
[2] http://www.worldatlas.com/nations.htm
[3] http://blog.btrax.com/en/2010/12/15/10-cultural-contrasts-between-us-and-japanese-companies-a-personal-view/

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