Singapore Business Culture – What to Know and What to Avoid

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Every year, Singapore sees thousands of visitors who are interested in taking advantage of local business opportunities. Singapore represents a rich economy with impressive exports and imports, so the opportunities are nearly endless. However, it is important that you know how to operate as a business traveler in Singapore so that you can make the best impression with your local contacts.

Being conscious of various cultural differences and business traditions can make a significant difference in your business trip to Singapore. 

Cultural Considerations When Conducting Business in Singapore

There are a number of key considerations regarding Singapore’s business culture to keep in mind when engaging in business relations in the area.

The culture shows great respect for the elderly, and the person in the highest position in the business is revered. The oldest or most senior person in the business may assume a leadership position when speaking to others. If you are with a group of people, it is critical that you should introduce the most important members of your business first. 

The business culture in Singapore is exceedingly competitive and is based on a strong work ethic. Westerners must learn to adapt to a different negotiation process while in Singapore.

Negotiations tend to be conducted at a much slower pace than those in Western countries. Many Singapore natives will want to develop a foundation of mutual trust and respect before agreeing to do business with foreigners. For this reason, it is important to develop a professional relationship with each key group member.

Be prepared to make several business trips to engage with team members before an agreement is entered into. 

As a way of getting to know people, Singapore business professionals may ask seemingly personal questions, such as questions about the person’s income and marital status. The Singapore people appreciate openness, so try not to avoid these questions, even if they might make you feel a little uncomfortable. The people are simply trying to connect with you.

Many businesswomen do not report having issues working in Singapore. However, there are a variety of cultures and religions represented in the area that may have different cultural traditions and expectations. It is important to know what to expect in this regard before entering the area to avoid offending the people.

There are various religions and cultures that are represented in Singapore, so it is helpful to be acquainted with some of the more popular beliefs of some of them, such as Hinduism and Islam. 

Key Tips to Make a Successful Business Trip to Singapore 

Follow these tips to ensure your business trip to Singapore is met with success. 

  • Be punctual. Punctuality is a sign of respect in Singapore and it is considered insulting to leave a Singaporean business executive waiting. However, some Singapore professionals may prefer to be a few minutes late so that they do not appear overly eager, so be patient. 
  • Listen. After someone makes a comment, count to ten before you respond. This shows that you are carefully considering what they say. 
  • Speak in a low tone. Communications between the people of Singapore are very measured. Avoid raising your voice or showing anger. A calm tone of voice will command much more respect. 
  • Be genuine. If you compliment a person in Singapore, it is better to address their accomplishments instead of their appearance. 
  • Break eye contact. While you will likely have eye contact during part of the conversation, occasionally break eye contact so that you do not seem like you are glaring at the other person.
  • Expect physical contact. Physical contact between people of the same gender is considered acceptable in Singapore, so do not be alarmed if you see this contact, which is a sign of friendship.
  • Use your right hand when possible. Muslims and Hindus perceive the left hand as unclean, so try to use your right hand when eating or shaking hands.  

How to Start a Conversation in Singapore

When doing business in Singapore, it is important that you are able to open conversations with the people in a respectful manner.

Showing interest in the culture of the nation is a good start. You may wish to talk about the local arts with the people. You can talk about the architecture that you have noticed and appreciate. You can also discuss the various foods you have tried and complement the cuisine. 

You should also demonstrate an interest in the person with whom you are speaking.

Ask them about their travel and interests. Also, ask about their goals with the company and key successes. You can respond in kind about your own accomplishments in a humble manner. 

Tips on Business Cards in Singapore

During your conversation, you may see an opportunity to share your business card with a local Singapore resident. To increase the odds of your card being perceived in a positive manner, consider including a translation in Chinese on the back of your card. 

Business cards are often exchanged after the initial introductions with both hands. The cards are held between the thumbs and index fingers. Sometimes, a person may give a slight bow when accepting or giving a card.

It is common for a Singapore business professional to accept the card with both hands, study it, make eye contact with the person who gave the card to them and then carefully places the card in a card case or pocket. Follow suit and treat the card you received in the same manner.

Avoid writing on someone’s business card, which may be perceived as a sign of disrespect. 

Cultural Mistakes to Avoid in Singapore 

Avoid all of these cultural mistakes while visiting Singapore:

  • Spitting, smoking in public, chewing gum or jaywalking, all of which may subject you to fines in Singapore
  • Talking about politics, bureaucracy, religion, crime or punishment
  • Publicly correcting or disagreeing with a superior
  • Having physical contact with someone of the opposite sex
  • Having public displays of affection with your spouse or romantic partner 
  • Pointing at someone with your finger, which is considered rude in Singapore
  • Touching someone’s head or face
  • Touching things with your feet, which are perceived by some as unclean in Singapore
  • Standing with your hands on your hips, which may be considered angry or aggressive

Contact New Horizons for Help

When visiting Singapore or other Asian locales, it is important that you understand the cultural norms so that you do not offend people with whom you hope to do business.

Recognizing cultural differences and different protocols is important to make the most of your trip.

Our local experts are familiar with these traditions and can provide helpful insight to you. We can also discuss other ways to make your business expansion to Singapore a plus. Contact us today to learn more. 

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