10/08/2015 12:25 EDT | Updated 10/08/2016 05:12 EDT

5 Ways to Build Cross-Cultural Business Relationships in Asia

hudiemm via Getty Images

Whether you're travelling from Toronto to Taipei, Montreal to Mumbai, or Ottawa to Osaka, cultural intelligence is crucial to navigating business relationships overseas.

Over the last four decades, Asia has seen immense global economic growth. But what does this mean for you as a global business traveller? Whether you are an executive, entrepreneur, or emerging leader, knowing more about how your Asian counterparts do business will give you a distinct competitive advantage and allow you to build successful, long-lasting business relationships.

As an intercultural communication and international protocol expert, I've travelled to and closely studied the cultures in 10 Asian countries: China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan. Today, whether your focus is on sales and marketing, distribution channels, or overall operations, I assist organizations and executive teams with the cultural intelligence needed to succeed in today's competitive global markets.

Improve your communication and increase your revenue by starting with these five key tips:

1. Determine whether the culture is individual or group oriented

The terms individualism and collectivism refer to the tendency for cultures to orient toward the self or the group. In individualist cultures, such as Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, people consider themselves individually responsible when making decisions and deals. Conversely, people from collectivist cultures, common to Asia, prefer group representation in meetings and negotiations. In fact, in many Asian countries, including China, Japan and Singapore, making a decision without group input is avoided.

Fast fact: In Myanmar, senior-level decision-makers are not as consensus seeking as leaders in other Southeast Asian cultures.

2. Compare rules and relationships

A Chinese philosopher was once asked why the East and West had developed such different habits of thought. "Because you had Aristotle and we had Confucius," he replied. For example, in the U.S., written rules tend to be regarded as sacrosanct. Moreover, for most U.S. businesspeople, a contract is the relationship. Not so in most Asian cultures, where people see the world holistically, or comprised of completely interdependent relationships.

Fast fact: In China, where business agreements may be regarded as merely guidelines, the Chinese tend to be surprised by a Westerner's refusal to renegotiate a price or contract.

3. Understand concepts of time

In monochronic cultures, common in the West, time is regarded as linear, or sequential--meaning that people do one thing at a time. In polychronic cultures, such as those often found in Asia, it's customary to do many things at once. Accordingly, interruptions are routine, agendas are dispensable, and schedules are subject to change.

Fast fact: In Taiwan, people work an average of 2,200 hours a year--a full 20 percent more than employees in Japan and the United States. Accordingly, at the noon hour, some Taiwanese companies offer workers "nap time," including dimmed lights and soothing music.

4. Factor in social vs. business crossover

Just as people in the East and West regard time differently, they also choose to spend that time in their workplaces differently. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Delaware considered the number of hours employees spend on work-related tasks as compared to social activities, such as chatting casually, celebrating coworkers' birthdays, or checking out a team member's vacation photos. In the U.S., the split was 80/20. But in Asian countries, including India and Malaysia, it was 50/50. This emphasizes the important role of relationships in collectivist cultures.

Fast fact: In Malaysia, business guests are expected to recognize and respect the country's diverse cultures, and to accommodate each one when celebrating, dining, or socializing.

5. Understand women in business

There are no hard-and-fast rules on how women succeed in the world of work. Nevertheless, the Third Billion Index is a helpful gauge. Compiled from a myriad of indicators that affect women's economic standing, such as entrepreneurial support and equal pay, it features 128 countries worldwide. Scores range from 70.6 at the high end (Australia and Norway tied for the top ranking) -- Canada was ranked #7 with a score of 67.2 -- to Yemen, which scored 26.1. Canada ties for the highest ranking in women's pay with Australia, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Sweden.

Fast fact: The Filipino culture may value machismo, but in business, women are considered as equals to men. On the Global Gender Gap Index, for instance, the Philippines ranks second only to Norway in women's ability to rise to leadership positions in enterprise.

If you are a business leader in the global economy, becoming culturally aware and learning to build trust, inspire respect, and create successful, long-lasting business relationships in Asia will increase your global aptitude and lead you on a cross-cultural journey to increase your organization's revenue.​


Steps To Setting Up Own Business