Doing Business in Asia: An Etiquette Guide

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February 15 pan pacific tianjin

As Asia continues to drive global economic growth, expanding business operations in this region is a strategic move for companies aiming to tap into diverse, emerging markets. Understanding the nuances of varying Asian business practices and etiquette would be therefore be essential to avoid a faux pas.

Below is our useful etiquette guide for conducting business in Asia.

1. First Meeting

business handshake
Punctuality is a basic sign of respect for business meetings in general. Whether it is a formal meeting in a luxurious hotel in the heart of the city or an on-site meeting out of town, arriving ahead of time is considered polite and professional. A formal handshake is a common form of greeting, accompanied by a slight bow or nod. Refrain from making unnecessary physical contact, such as patting someone’s shoulder. When exchanging business cards, it is highly encouraged to give and receive with both hands. Learning greetings in your client’s local language could be a good icebreaker too.

2. Small Talk

casual business meeting
Making small talk is an important skill when building professional relationships in Asia. Creating a first good impression can go a long way and being well informed matters. Asian businessmen value small talk because they need to establish trust from building a relationship with potential business partners even before closing a deal. However, as in most countries, steer clear from controversial topics such as politics and religion. Instead, have light conversation on more easy to tackle topics like the weather, sports, hobbies, and traveling.

3. Dining 

Pan Pacific Tianjin Hai Tien Lo
Image: Hai Tien Lo at Pan Pacific Tianjin 

While having Chinese meals, avoid sticking your chopsticks into the bowl upright for this signifies bad luck. It is also considered impolite to refuse a drink in Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea. Remember not to pour your own drink but feel free to serve drinks for others as a sign of respect and hospitality. Finally, if you have had enough to drink and wish to avoid another refill, simply refrain from emptying your glass. However, if you participate in a toast, you will likely be expected to finish your drink.

See also: Our guides to business lunch options in Manila, top restaurants in Perth and Bangkok’s best rooftop bars.

4. Communication 

While business cultures in westernized regions like North America and Australia tend to be more explicit and succinct in verbal communication between individuals, etiquette and focus on the group rather than individual is reflective of beliefs and cultural nuances that form the social fabric of Asian societies. It is how a Chinese, Thai, Singaporean or Indonesian show respect to one another.

Many Asians also dislike standing out in meetings and may be more introverted in business scenarios. Be mindful of the concept of “face” and avoid yes or no questions. In addition, remember to watch out for the quietest one in the room, for that person could be the most influential.

5. Gift-giving

jiujui copyright©2008 Badagnani
Copyright©2008 Badagnani 

Gift-giving is customary in Asian cultures, with the ritual having more value than the gift itself. It is practiced to show gratitude after closing a deal or to congratulate someone for an achievement. In business settings, gifts are often given on behalf of the company, and not from the individual.

The etiquette for giving gifts in Asia is based on tradition, superstition and numerology. Never give a clock, handkerchief, or white flowers as gifts because they come with negative connotations and are associated with funerals. It is more ideal to give premium quality liquor, tea, corporate gifts and handicrafts or souvenirs from your home country. The packaging also matters, with red and gold being the most auspicious colors.

Make a lasting impression by holding your next business meeting or event at one of our Pan Pacific hotels and resorts  in Asia and beyond.

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