Golden Rules for Dealing with Asian Businesses, part 1 of 3

Today, more Americans than ever are doing business in China, Japan, Korea and other parts of Asia. Below is advice explaining what Western business people need to know about national traits and customs in those countries if they want to succeed.

1. Speech is to promote harmony
In the West the primary purpose of speech is to exchange information. In Asian cultures, what is actually said is of less importance than how and when it is said and who says it. Platitudes are trotted out in profusion in Japan; flattery is also included. Westerners consider it as time wasting and pointless; in the Asian view, the longer this harmonious exchange is maintained, the more likely it is that successful business will ensue.

[wcm_restrict]2. Good listening is important
East Asian people tend to speak less than Americans. They usually hear you out first, reflect unhurriedly, then attempt to be concise in reply. As they are high context cultures, their message, though relatively brief, may be highly charged with secondary, implicit meaning. For instance, if a Japanese says “We shall make every effort to deliver these goods in the brief period you have allowed us”, he is actually telling you that he can’t do it.

3. Never interrupt
In East Asian cultures (apart from Hong Kong) interrupting is taboo. One must remember that they are probably making an effort to speak in English, have reflected first on what they are going to say, so it is only fair to hear them out.

4. Never confront
Western cultures have a sneaking fondness for confrontation: it is direct, honest and saves time. In the East, in the interests of harmony, it is generally avoided. Koreans and Chinese may use it tactically, but not in their general comportment. The Westerner has little to gain by being too directly critical of people he hopes will be customers.

5. Never disagree openly
There are times in life when we feel we have to disagree with an interlocutor – he or she may be a friend, colleague, superior or opposing negotiator. Expressing disagreement comes more easily to some cultures than to others. In the East Asian cultures open disagreement is taboo – indeed most Asians are nervous about it.

Continue to part 2[/wcm_restrict][wcm_nonmember]

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About the Authors

Kai Hammerich received his M.B.A. from Northwestern University, Kellogg Graduate School of Management and his M.Sc. in economics from the University of Aarhus, Denmark. Based in London, he is a consultant with the international search firm Russell Reynolds Associates. Kai has conducted numerous CEO and board-level assignments for major global companies. He has in-depth experience advising clients on how to align a company’s talent portfolio with its overall business strategy and company culture. Kai has been nominated by BusinessWeek as one of the most influential search experts worldwide.

Richard D. Lewis is a renowned British linguist and founder of Richard Lewis Communications – a language school for executives as well as a company that advises on cross-cultural business issues. He is the creator of the Lewis Model of Cross-Cultural Communication and author of many books including the bestselling When Cultures Collide: Leading Across Cultures.

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