Traveling to Asia on Business? Cultural Differences to Note

Networking in Thailand, Malaysia, or Japan?–Dos and Don’ts to Note

Understanding cultural differences when doing business and networking around the world is  becoming increasingly important in this global society (click here for an explanation).

On a related note, I posted a blog entry a few weeks ago outlining valuable tips from top networking experts in China and Vietnam which will help people traveling to those countries to position themselves for the most successful outcome when networking and doing business there.  I promised that I would revisit the topic of what to do when preparing to network in Asia by posting another blog specifically offering advice on networking in Thailand, Malaysia, and Japan–today I am following through with that promise.

Thai and Malaysian business networking expert Avryl Au (pictured above) has a number of important recommendations for networking and conducting business in Thailand and Malaysia:

  • When doing business in Thailand, they do not shake hands.  Instead, they put their hands together (palm to palm) and place them just in front of their face, close their mouth, and bow slightly.  It is acceptable for foreigners to do the same.
  • In Malaysia, Au says that the handshake is the official way to greet, but after that you put your right hand on your heart.  Westerners generally have a firm handshake.  However, in Malaysia the handshake is generally softer.  This is not a sign of weakness.  It is simply the cultural norm.  Again, foreigners may do the same.

Asato Ohno (pictured below), one of Japan’s leading experts on networking says, “One big difference between the Japanese culture and Western business culture is an activity the Japanese call ‘nominication,’ which means drinking communication.”  According to Ohno, “In order to build any kind of meaningful business relationship with your associates, you must go out for dinner and drinks.”

While this concept is not foreign in Western business culture, it is something that is much, much more important in Japan.  Ohno says, “People believe they can build deeper relationships with others more quickly by drinking together.  It is almost like having casual one-to-one meetings regularly.  Therefore, it is important for any business person to prepare and to plan for ‘nominication’ sessions in order to be successful.”

Finally, exchanging business cards is an essential part of most cultures.  In most Asian countries, after a person has introduced him or herself and bowed, the business card ceremony begins.  In Japan, this is called meishi The card is presented to the other person with the front side facing upwards toward the recipient.  Offering the card with both hands holding the top corners of the card demonstrates respect to the other person.

The business card is admired much more in Asian culture than it is to us here in Western society.  It is truly an extension of the individual and should always be treated with respect.  Things like tucking it into a pocket after receiving it, writing on it, bending or folding it in any way, or even looking at it again after you have first accepted it and looked at it are not considered polite and can insult your fellow Asian networker.

So, with that last recommendation, I think I’ll grab some business cards, set a reservation at a local restaurant, contact some business associates, and start a little nominication of my own. Cheers.

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12 thoughts on “Networking in Thailand, Malaysia, or Japan?–Dos and Don’ts to Note

  1. Another tip to remember when networkig in Thailand is that business meetings tend to start after you have been offered small cakes and juice or hot beverages. Breakfast or lunch is eaten after the meeting concludes. The shared communal atmosphere generated while eating afterwards with business colleagues helps facilitate the indepth networking takes place.

    1. Dear Tom,

      Regarding the business card situation in Japan I’ve heard ( in some circumstances ) it quite acceptable to order “tap-tei” from the bar/waitress.

      This is essentially a sticky Japanese beverage which will allow you to stick your Host’s business card onto your forehead ( front facing towards host ) for the duration of the meal.

      While seen as slightly quiry in Western circles this is perfectly acceptable within Japanese business culture and shows your host the respect you hold for them as an individual and businessperson.

      Ideally their business card should remain in place throughout the meal/drinks, only being removed once back in your hotel.

      I hope this helps you and good luck in your venture.

      Brad

  2. Thank you for bring this to our attention. I have previously heard some of this but it is always good to be reminded. It is apparent in Asian cultures that respect is a big part of life and I think I we should remember to show respect in every networking activity. I like the Japanese tradition of passing the business card. Respect others and they will remember you.

  3. Thank you for mentioning about Japanese “nominication”. Yes, I like to do that. When Dr.Misner get the chance to come to Japan next time, hope we go out for dinner and drinks for nominication.

    As for business cards in Japan, it has been becoming more generous for instance, I sometimes look at it and write down some information on it after getting approval.

    Well, that’s about it for today!
    Cheers.

    Executive Search Japan CEO
    BNI Yokohama central region executive director
    Naoyuki Watanabe

  4. Kent, Avryl would disagree with you strongly on this matter. She is from Malaysia and runs BNI throughout the country. Having visited the country several times, I agree with her.

  5. Hi Ivan, from my experience, those from Network Marketing and Insurance industry, they do have firm and strong handshake.Especially those already made big money. Because I was educated from there. Anyway, maybe we have some different people. 🙂

    By the way, I have asked permission on another blog post to connect on Linkedin with you. 🙂

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