I have been hired to give trainings on the business etiquette practices and culture of Japanese people so I know how differently Americans and Asians approach business. I find it very interesting, and I suspect others do too, because I’m often asked about the etiquette practices of other countries.
Asian countries are what are called high context cultures. In a high context culture many things are left unsaid, letting the culture explain. Asians focus on building relationships in business. It’s important to know and trust someone before people from Asian countries are willing to enter into a business agreement or make business decisions.
Conversely, America is a low context culture and we are direct communicators. We get to the point and move quickly in business, even if we don’t know someone well.
Those from a high context culture are indirect communicators and much is communicated through tone of voice and nonverbal communication such as gestures, head tilting and body language. Because they are indirect communicators, Asian people usually don’t say no, which is considered rude. Instead you might hear phrases like “it’s inconvenient” or “it’s under consideration”. To get a direct answer, it’s best to ask a question that allows someone to say “yes”, such as “do you disagree?”
It can be frustrating for us low context Americans when doing business with high context cultures because we value action, clarity and getting down to business. Relationships are important to us personally, but less so in business. Thus, we are viewed by low context cultures as being impatient, insincere and casual.
Asian cultures value title and rank and have deep respect for their elders. Rank dictates things like who enters and exits a room first, where people sit and who speaks. For Asians, it would be insulting to speak to a lower-ranking person before speaking to a person with higher rank or to seat a high ranking Asian next to a lower ranking American.
Just as there are in America, there are many business etiquette dos and don’ts in Asian countries. It’s important we understand what those are and how Asians approach business in order to succeed in business with them.
I’ll share business etiquette practices for other countries in other blog posts. If you were raised in another country, especially one that’s a high context country, I’d love to hear how you experience American culture and etiquette.