It is crucial that you familiarize yourself with Singapore business etiquette standards before you meet with clients. While some mistakes are simply embarrassing, others are considered rude and unprofessional. Rude and unprofessional behaviors can end up costing you an international client.
Arranging a Meeting
Singapore meetings should be made weeks or months in advance. Exceptions do apply, however. The most common exceptions include trade-related business meetings. If at all possible, request a referral from another business that has already been successful in Singapore. This often helps your business prospect to feel more at ease. Upon making your appointment, you will want to send information that clearly outlines all of the individuals from your party that will be attending the meeting. You should also include your resume, a business card, a cover letter, and a press kit, if possible. This will help familiarize your client with you and your business.
The Business Hierarchy
Seniority is extremely important in Singapore business etiquette. For this reason, the senior member of your business party should lead, followed by the next senior member, and so on. During the meeting, your business team will sit across from you prospect’s team. Each individual will sit directly across from their equal rank.
Generally, business is addressed almost immediately in Singapore. Pleasantries are rarely exchanged. When meeting your prospect, a simple handshake is often acceptable, but there is not much pressure on the length or firmness of the handshake. A gentle pressing that lasts 10 to 15 seconds is considered respectful and adequate. If you are meeting a female, do not extend your hand. Instead, you should allow her to extend her hand first. It is not uncommon for a woman to simply nod instead of extending her hand.
Exchanging Business Cards
A business card is considered an extension of the person who gives it. For this reason, the utmost respect should be given when you are presented with a business card. Generally, when you are presented with a business card by an Asian, it will be held by the top corners with the thumb and index fingers of both hands with the name facing the receiver. Avoid the common U.S. cultural norm of haphazardly storing the business card in your back pocket or tossing it in your purse or a folder. These are signs of disrespect in Singapore.
Your business card should be presented professionally. The appearance should also be highly professional. Your name, your company’s name and logo, and your contact information should all be present.
Asians have different communication mannerisms than Americans. Understanding this can prevent being perceived as rude or too forward. Eye contact can be perceived as disrespect or aggression. Instead of full eye contact, simply make eye contact for a moment, and then lower your head. This represents honor in the Asian culture.
Physical touch, especially with a member of the opposite sex is considered both aggressive and flirtatious. Avoid pats on the back or placing you hand on someone’s arm or shoulder. Generally, an arm’s length distance is considered the norm. While conducting business with Muslims, it is essential that you avoid use of your left hand. In the Muslim culture, the left hand is considered to be unclean because it is used for personal hygiene.
By understanding the different norms in Asian culture, you can increase your chances of closing a successful business deal, and you can also avoid embarrassment. Prepare yourself well ahead of time so that when you conduct business, you will be well prepared to follow Singapore business etiquette.