For American companies to conduct successful business globally, cultural values must not be ignored. The attitude of “if it works in America, it will work anywhere” should not prevail. If cultural values are ignored, a businessperson’s effort to forge a relationship will be met with resistance, for even though some cultural values are elective and are not deal-killers, some are cultural exclusives and must be honored. Americans conducting business in other countries must be aware of all cultural values, for any disrespect could be a deal-breaker. Singapore and India present two contrasting examples of the role of culture-specific values in business.
Singapore is the smallest country in southeast Asia. The ethnic makeup of Singapore is diverse, with Chinese as the majority, followed by Malay and Indian. When conducting business, English is the preferred language. Singapore is a group-oriented culture; therefore, a businessperson must form personal relationships. Just like in the United States, in Singapore, businesspeople can take their time and work their way into cliques or get in through being introduced.
In comparison to the United States, conducting business in Singapore is more formal; therefore, protocol is valued. Appointments must be made in advance, with writing a letter the number one preferred choice. Punctuality is essential, for being late for appointments is viewed negatively.
Conducting business in Singapore is also more slowly paced than in the United States. Singaporeans frown upon being rushed; therefore, a businessperson must allot adequate time to conduct business. Business is not discussed immediately; small talk always comes prior to the business discussion. Therefore, businesspeople eagerly wanting to make a connection must be cognizant of being too aggressive. In Singapore, upon entering a business meeting, one must never take a seat immediately. One must wait until being told where to sit. This is in sharp contrast to the United States, for in many cases upon entering a business meeting, the businessperson will sit in any available seat.
Singapore, dubbed one of the safest countries in the world, deals with crime differently from the United States. A businessperson must be cognizant of the differences, for Singapore’s laws are as applicable to noncitizens as to citizens. For example, crimes such as first-degree murder carry an automatic death sentence; minor offenses are dealt with harshly. A violator on public transit can be fined up to $500 for eating or drinking. Chewing gum is prohibited unless for medical or dental reasons, as is spitting in public.
In contrast, the U.S. legal atmosphere is more lenient than in Singapore. Even though penalized in Singapore, Americans can eat and drink on public transit, chew gum, and spit virtually anywhere. A businessperson must be aware that commercial disputes that may be handled as civil suits in the United States can escalate to criminal cases in Singapore and result in heavy fines and prison sentences.
India, a country in south Asia, has more than 1 billion people. Even though India has a large population of English-speaking people, at times, confusion can arise over words’ meanings. Unlike Singaporeans, Indians value punctuality, yet may not be punctual themselves. Even though it is advisable for appointments to be made at least one month in advance, a businessperson should confirm the appointment upon arrival. Business appointments should ideally be made for late morning or early afternoon, between the hours of 11 and four.
Like Singaporeans, Indians do not like to be rushed when making decisions; therefore, a mild, relaxed demeanor is valued, whereas impatience is frowned upon and viewed as being rude and disrespectful to their culture. Unlike the United States, where the purpose of the meeting is stated almost immediately, in India a meeting usually begins with friendly small talk. The talk normally involves questions about the family unit, for in India, the family is highly valued; therefore, discussing the family unit shows respect.
American businesspeople must be aware that even though in the United States disagreements are usually directly expressed, in India disagreements are rarely expressed directly due to the value placed on well-established honest business relationships. Therefore, to avoid hurt feelings, Indians use indirect communication and nonverbal cues. Because of the value placed on structure and hierarchy in Indian companies, senior colleagues are highly respected and obeyed. Therefore, Americans must be sensitive by showing the needed respect.
Even though it may be a company’s dream to expand overseas, it is important that cultural values not be ignored. Familiarity with business customs specific to a culture can determine the success or demise of a venture.
- M. Brett, Negotiating Globally: How to Negotiate Deals, Resolve Disputes, and Make Decisions Across Cultures (Jossey-Bass, 2001);
- Cellich and S. Jain, Global Business Negotiations: A Practical Guide (SouthWestern Educational Publishing, 2003);
- Chaney and J. Martin, Intercultural Business Communication (Prentice Hall, 2005);
- Dresser, Multicultural Manners: Essential Rules of Etiquette for the 21st Century (Wiley, 2005);
- Milligan, Culture Smart! (Kuperard, 2006);
- Carlos Noronha, The Theory of Culture-Specific Total Quality Management: Quality Management in Chinese Regions (Palgrave, 2002);
- Salacuse, The Global Negotiator: Making, Managing and Mending Deals Around the World in the Twenty-First Century (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).
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