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How to Build Trusting Relationships in Indonesia?

How to Build Trusting Relationships in Indonesia?

The first encounter with your potential business partners in Indonesia has become a positive experience for you. The delegation team of your company has met the General Manager as well as the members of the Management Board. While having dinner together in an exclusive restaurant in Jakarta you introduced each other by talking about your work but also a lot about your private life. Now, your team would like to process the project and get down to business – the reason you came here.

But please, hold on for a moment! The most common mistake business people from Western countries make in Indonesia is that they want to get down to business negotiations too quickly. In European countries or in Australia people usually do not spend much time in getting to know each other when establishing business with new partner companies. They come for presenting their products and talk about numbers and specifications. This is the way people from Western countries build up trust: They show their achievements and present the quality of their products.

In Indonesia, however, people built up trust in a more emotional way. Before talking about business numbers they feel the need to get to know their potential partners closer and to build up a good and stabile relationship first. While sitting together during your welcome dinner you might have felt already that they show a high interest in your personal life. They asked you about your family and your hobbies and many more personal things. With that Indonesians are not just curious (like often considered by Westerners) but rather try to collect information about you that show how reliable and trustworthy you are. This happens also in view of future projects: In a country where written contracts are considered more a formality than an obligation they need to estimate your behaviour in case something goes wrong.

Only if they rate somebody as trustworthy, Indonesians will pay efforts building up a business relationship and allow to move the negotiations onto the next level. Therefore be aware of the fact that your behaviour, your ability to respond to your guests and the image of your character play a significant role in your business negotiations.

What type of personality is considered trustworthy?

Across the archipelago, Indonesians are known to be quite relaxed people although in business. They are very friendly and courteous and usually smile a lot. With that they intend to create a comfortable atmosphere where everybody feels convenient. For foreign business people therefore it is advisable to be generally open and friendly. Again – giving insights into your life in Australia, your hobbies and your family contributes much to create a good image and to contribute to the positive atmosphere. As many foreign business people report, making business with Indonesians often feels like making business with friends. Not least, Indonesians see it that way.

Despite their easygoingness, however, Indonesians are also very polite people. There is a popular saying that sometimes even is written at the doors of offices or restaurants, “Santai tapi sopan” meaning “Be relaxed but polite” which is quite self-explanatory. Not least because of that they also expect you to show a polite and respectful behaviour – no matter how stressful a situation might be. And since many things take their time in the island country, patience is considered a very valued character trait. With being patient people believe to show a mature personality. Impatience instead is considered childish and immature, facts that many rushed foreign business people are not aware of.

Indonesians might be relaxed but they always address each other with respectful vocabulary. Like the English “Mister” or “Misses” Indonesians address men with “Bapak” (meaning either father and Mister) and women with “Ibu” (mother, Misses). Although they know each other well for years, they retain this salutation and would not call somebody by just their name. Address Indonesian business people with either “Bapak” or “Ibu” and their first name, i.e. Bapak Arief or Ibu Dewi.

How your communication style contributes to a positive image

In most cases, business negotiations with foreigners are conducted in English. Although your Indonesian partners speak your mother tongue, they may use it in a different way. While people from Australia, Northern America or Europe are used to speak in a direct way and to call things as they are, Indonesians prefer a more indirect approach. This happens with the aim to be polite and to create a harmonic atmosphere.

Foreign business people create a positive and trustful image if they show skills in this soft style of indirect communication. This includes not only to speak in words but also to “speak” through mime and body language. For example smiling contributes to a positive image. Putting your hands in trouser pockets instead is considered rude, especially when being in a conversation with somebody. Losing temper is a disaster – not only for the foreigners but for all people involved since it causes face loss. Building up a trustful relationship in Indonesia takes time. But if you show a friendly, polite and respectful attitude, your efforts will be paid off and you will win partners for a promising new business.

Communication according to different cultural norms and values will take you out of your comfort zone. That´s why I recommend: Develop your skills in cross-cultural communication and learn about Indonesian culture before you start doing business there. In the next article of these miniseries we will look closer at successful communication. Stay updated!

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Dearin & Associates provides cross-cultural consulting services to companies operating in overseas markets, and to their counterparts from abroad. Our briefings are tailored to each participant, and we focus on private and professional etiquette, cultural differences, religious considerations, political subtleties, racial and sexual mores and the greater economic and regulatory context. Click here to find out more. 


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