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How to Get Started in Indonesia

How to Get Started in Indonesia

aJakarta City Skyline

A cultural guide for business people

Welcome to our mini-series of How to Get Started in Indonesia. In the next couple of months we'll introduce basic cultural knowledge about doing business in Indonesia through a number articles. This article outlines the very first encounter with Indonesian business partners.

Handshake & Small Talk: Meeting Indonesian Business People

Your company has decided to start doing business in Indonesia, and you have established contact with an Indonesian company that has made you a very interesting offer. You are about to fly to Jakarta and want to meet your potential business partners in person, get an idea how their company is like, and possibly sign the deal.

Although Indonesia is your geographical neighbour, Indonesian culture is quite different from the Australian. So what do you need to know about business culture in Indonesia to accomplish a successful first encounter? Who will be part of your company´s business delegation?

It's worth mentioning that you must be prepared before your departure to Indonesia. In that part of the world, the status and the corporate position of a person are very important. In other words, big jobs are done by big people. Establishing business with somebody from a foreign country is a big job, no matter how large the deal actually is. Therefore, many top managers consider it a sign of respect to welcome their international guests in person. By assembling your delegation team you should also pay attention to the people´s titles and positions. If you know that the Indonesian General Manager will await you for the first meeting, the team you're sending should also hold top positions in your company.

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A simple handshake with a big difference

When we meet people for the first time, whether Australian, Indonesian or European, we always try to create a positive image of ourselves. You may think that shaking hands can´t be tricky but when dealing with different cultures, even little things can make a difference, especially when it comes to everyday customs. For instance, the greeting ritual. Many who are unaware of cultural differences drop a brick on the stage of global business and unintentionally put themselves in fragile situations.

In the Indonesian business world, the welcoming part follows a hierarchical approach where top managers must be greeted first. Some people greet with a soft handshake while smiling and making eye contact. This might not be acceptable in Indonesia, as it contains the world's largest Muslim population. Some Muslim businesswomen politely refuse to shake hands with men. When this happens, you must greet with a little nod while folding your palms just the way Asians do. 

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Business cards are not just cards

Just like the western world, exchanging business cards is a ritual that follows the first handshake. In addition to company and contact information, business people in Indonesia use business cards as an important source of identifying seniority. Indonesian workers care for the title and the corporate position mentioned, as it reveals their qualifications and gives them an idea about how to deal with that person.

In Indonesia you may offer your business cards using both your hands, however, you must receive business cards exclusively with your right hand. When received, by reading it thoroughly and placing it in your wallet, you are showing a sign of appreciation and respect that is highly valued in the Indonesian culture. Fiddling with it, writing on it or placing it in your pocket is considered extremely rude. 

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Topics of initial conversation

Although the purpose of your trip to Indonesia might strictly be for business where you're looking into knowing more about the company you're dealing with and possibly signing a deal, you might find yourself invited to a premium restaurant discussing non-business topics with your host. You might share information about family, hobbies, friends, travel experiences and more. Indonesians don't rush into things. They prefer knowing more about who you are before talking business. 

They also believe that the base of trust comes from a good relationship. Before they make a decision to cooperate, Indonesians feel the need to establish a secure foundation of a trustful relationship first. By exchanging personal information, it gives them an overall idea of your character and intentions which helps them predict your future behaviour when working together. Your interest in knowing their personal issues is a positive sign to them as well, as it reveals your interest in doing business with them also. 

Meet the masters of small talk

Indonesians are masters of making small talk. They value exchanging personal information and talk about everything and anything. Doing business with Indonesians often results in establishing new friendships. However, there are some topics that are considered taboo and must be avoided. These topics include politics, bureaucracy, corruption, human rights, religion and gender roles. 

Doing business with people from a foreign culture always takes you out of your comfort zone. Therefore whenever you feel insecure about something, whether about your agenda or key people involved, always feel free to ask. In Indonesia, ask politely with a big smile. 

Do you want to learn more about Do's & Don´ts when doing business in Indonesia? Stay updated with us and receive Indonesia related information right into your mailbox by subscribing here

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. 

About Silke Irmscher

Silke Irmscher is a cross-cultural expert and communication psychologist specialising in Indonesian culture. Originally from Germany, she has lived and worked in Indonesia for more than 15 years. Silke has a diverse background, having come from an Indonesian-Germany family and lived in a Javanese village community in the suburbs of Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Cross-cultural communication is intrinsic to both her professional and everyday life. Silke is fluent in German, English and Indonesian and speaks some Javanese, Spanish and Russian – languages that she has learned along the way in Europe, South America and Asia. She researched Javanese culture, organized cultural programs for the Goethe-Institute Jakarta and worked with the development aid program of the German International Cooperation (GIZ) throughout Indonesia. In recent years she has supported international organizations and companies in Indonesia with cross-cultural training, coaching and team development to enhance communication and productivity among diverse workforces. Silke has always been fascinated by cultural exchange. Her passion is to encourage managers and experts in international business embrace cultural diversity for the benefit of both their teams and their own personal development.

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