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Working in Singapore

Business Culture in Singapore

Doing business in Singapore can be tricky for newly arrived expats. There are a lot of social rules and protocols you should abide by if you don’t want to offend your business partners. Our article tells you all you need to know about doing business in Singapore, including dos and don’ts.

The Unwritten Code of Exchanging Business Cards  

While business cards are a simple necessity in other countries, in Singapore there is a whole ritual surrounding them. First off, the perfect time to exchange business cards is after the initial introduction. Present them with both hands and your name facing your business partner. If you are doing business with Chinese people, it is a good idea to have one side of your card translated into Mandarin.

After you have received a business card from your contacts, make sure to examine it carefully for a moment, then place it in a business card case. The respect with which you treat your partner’s business cards — and your own for that matter — is a reflection of how you will treat the business relationship. That is why you should never write on business cards, or crumple them carelessly in your pocket.

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Preparation Is the Key: Business Meetings

When you organize a business meeting with a prospective employer or business partner in Singapore, you should make sure to schedule your appointments at least two weeks in advance. It is important that you make a formal request and include a list of your team members and their expertise. If you are getting in touch with a company for a first time, try to get a referral from someone. This will increase your business partners’ trust in you and will make it easier for you to get an appointment. When suggesting a time and date, try to avoid major public holidays in Singapore such as the Chinese New Year when most businesses are closed.

Always try to be punctual or even a little bit early, and be prepared for a short period of small talk before the actual negotiations begin. It is important that the most senior team member leads the way so that your Singaporean counterparts can keep track of the hierarchy and seat you accordingly. Your presentation should always be accompanied by top-notch material which should be well structured and informative. Make sure to encourage your business partners to ask questions and respond positively.

The Fear of Losing Face

When it comes to business negotiations, a lot of the things we have mentioned on the previous page still apply. It is incredibly important to respect the hierarchy within a company you are doing business with.  You should also present your own team accordingly, with the most senior employee leading the way. Never raise your voice, get aggressive, or push your business partners to reach a decision as this won’t lead to positive results. In Singapore, business is done at a rather slow pace, and you should try to be patient. By the same token, it is important to make a respectful pause before answering a question to show that the question was given an appropriate thought.

Because Singaporeans are always afraid of “losing face”, communication is very subtle. Pay attention to your business partners’ body language and tone to figure out what they are actually trying to say: a “yes” does not always mean yes, and a “no” will most likely never be uttered directly. In a nutshell, you should try to be polite and professional, but also honest. Although they avoid conflict in the meeting room, Singaporean business people are tough negotiators when it comes to deadlines and such. It is always a good idea to draw up a list of compromises you are willing to make in order to seal the deal. Read our guide to culture in Singapore for more information.

Updated on: September 28, 2016

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