10 tips for doing business in Singapore

Introduction to Singaporian business culture

Singaporeans will be impressed by someone who is well-dressed, courteous, calm and efficient. Getting worked up and displaying emotion is frowned upon, as is doing or saying anything that will cause another person to lose face. Tact, diplomacy and implicitness rather than directness are important at all times. Entertainment is likely to be based around eating rather than merely drinking, and dignity must be maintained at all times.

You will impress a Singaporean negotiating team by avoiding the typical Western traits of impatience, or revealing too much of your personality.

Taking time to build a relationship is important, and while you may bond over drinks after work, a slightly cool, impersonal attitude works best around the negotiating table.

When working with a team, be sure to understand the company hierarchy and your place in it. Be aware of the individual team members’ need for harmony.

Do not push people to take hold of power they are not used to having. Above all, understand the multicultural nature of Singapore and the different ethnic sensibilities of team members.

How are you developing cultural intelligence across your organization? Have you considered Country Navigator?

Top 10 tips on Singaporian business culture

Here are 10 essential tips for making a good impression when doing business in Singapore:

  1. Understand the concept of ‘face’, a mask of personal dignity. This must be maintained at all times, and no action should be taken that will cause somebody else to lose face.
  2. Exercise modesty and humility at all times.
  3. Singapore is a multi ethnic society where Chinese, Malay and Indian traditions coexist beneath a surface of a Western cosmopolitan environment. It is important to acknowledge and respect this local diversity.
  4. Learn the difference between yes and no – an outright yes means ‘yes’, a hesitant yes or an excuse possibly means ‘no.
  5. Expect any negotiation to take some time, a lot of relationship-building and several visits.
  6. Always be prepared with quality presentation materials and be able to answer questions on follow-up and after-sales service.
  7. Be deferential and respectful to older people; seniority is revered in Singapore.
  8. Many Asians believe that Westerners are always in a hurry and this may be used against you in a negotiating situation, so do not be pressurised.
  9. Meetings are formal and follow a set agenda. Prepare thoroughly and let your counterparts know beforehand who will be attending and the rank they hold.
  10. After-sales service and follow-up are important; Singaporeans can be demanding consumers with high standards.

Do you regularly work across cultures? Would you like to improve your ability to communicate and influence with colleagues and clients from other cultures?

Country Navigator is an online and mobile platform that prepares executives and assignees on how to work and adapt culturally in over 100 countries. It combines assessments, country content and a range of e-learning modules.

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singaporian business culture

About the Author

Terence Brake

Terence Brake is an author in the global learning & development field and has over 20 years experience helping executives to work better across cultures.

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