Golden Rules for Dealing with Asian Businesses, part 2 of 3

6. Never cause anyone to lose face
No understanding of Asian mentality is complete without a grasp of the concept of face. Having face means having a high status in the eyes of one’s peers, and it is a mark of personal dignity. You should always be aware of the face factor in your dealings with Asians and never do or say anything that could cause someone to lose face.

7. Suggestions, especially criticism, must be indirect
Open criticism, especially of a personal nature, is taboo in Asian cultures. If one disapproves of a statement or course of action, alternatives may be suggested in a humble manner, as indirectly as possible (“we tried something like that last year… ” or “another thing we found useful… “).

[wcm_restrict]8. Be ambiguous, so as to leave options open
This is a frequently-used tactic by Asians themselves. Where Westerners normally are looking for commitment, Asians see no advantage in premature engagement. During a negotiating period or preparation for action, circumstances may change. Delaying a commitment may carry with it risk, but alternatively new opportunities may surface. Asians like options.

9. Prioritize diplomacy over truth
Purely factual truth is viewed with suspicion by all Asians. Things are not always what they seem, as any scientist will tell you. Unless it is positive, truth can be a dangerous concept in China, Japan and Korea and if too bluntly expressed is risky anywhere east of Istanbul.

10. Follow the rules but interpret them flexibly
Americans, Germans, Swiss, Dutch and to a lesser extent Britons and Nordics habitually respect officialdom. This is partly because their officials and institutions are generally efficient and deliver permits, judgments, mail, etc. within a reasonable time period. Rules are certainly respected and adhered to in Japan, China and Korea, but they are viewed more as wise arrangements rather than unalterable edicts or commandments. Asians, when confronted with an inconvenient statute or ordinance, do not break the law, but they look at the obstacle from a series of different perspectives and seek out the most lenient interpretation.

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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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