International business travel presents exciting opportunities, not just professionally, but personally as well, so you must get the most out of it. Asia is a common destination for many corporations given the significance of the region in the global economy. Business travelers to countries such as Korea, Japan, and China have to remember that other people are governed by very different cultures than the west, and that cannot be ignored when conducting business in the region. Knowing how to carry yourself and the practices to adhere to during your business travels can save you a load of trouble, and maybe, facilitate a deal or two.
Although it may not be necessary for some meetings, dark colored suits are the norm in most Asian countries, therefore, pack enough formal attire. Female dress codes are quite conservative in the region, so if you are wearing a skirt or dress, the length should be modest. In some settings, guests may have to remove their shoes when entertaining some rooms; thus, men should ensure their socks are presentable. Females should wear stockings even with closed shoes just in case they have to remove them. Facial hair is not very common in some Asian countries, so a clean shave is the safest bet.
Knowing whether to initiate greetings, how to present yourself and how to respond will make your business meetings in Asia less intimidating. In Japan, for instance, bowing is a show of respect, especially when dealing with locals who are not very familiar with Western culture. During a bow, the back should be straight, and the hands at your sides- never put them in the pockets. Alternatively, to avoid messing up the bow, you can give a handshake and nod your head in acknowledgment. China is less formal when it comes to greetings since a handshake will do. In Thailand, the cultural greeting is wai and includes a bow and pressing of the hands together. When in India, refrain from shaking hands, particularly with women unless offered first. Rank is held in high esteem in Asia, so when initiating greetings, start with the most senior member of the group.
Handling Business Cards
Business cards are crucial in Asian culture, and there is a right and wrong way to accept and offer them. When giving or receiving, use both hands because using just one shows disrespect. After accepting a card, take some time to look at it, don’t just put it away; again, it is interpreted as disrespect. Keep the business card in sight until the meeting is over, so never make the error of stashing it in your handbag or wallet before even your associate leaves.
How to Act
When planning your Japan trip, educate yourself about which gestures to avoid. Some people are accustomed to speaking while pointing at things, which is offensive in many parts of Asia. Don’t point at anything or anyone whether with your fingers or anything else- not even a chopstick when eating. In India, if a business associate offers a drink or food, don’t decline since that is considered offensive. Asians take great offense to tardiness, so always show up at meeting a few minutes earlier. If your host is local, don’t point out his or her mistake when speaking since it shows the lack of respect. Nodding is very common in India, and it is a sign of understanding, not agreement, so remember that when conducting meetings. Instead of nodding your agreement, it is safer to speak directly.
After completion of a successful business deal, your host may want to celebrate, so be knowledgeable about what that entails. Food and strong liquor are the least you can expect and if you are not a drinker, learn how to beg off without offending the hosts.
When in Asian countries, foreigners are expected to recognize and respect the different cultures and adjust to them during certain occasions such as when socializing, dining or celebrating. You may not have sufficient time to prepare adequately for your business trip to Asia but understand at least some of the basics.
By: Vincent Stokes