Understanding Asian Business Culture – Chapter 1

It’s no secret we live in an increasingly globalized world that relies on cross-cultural awareness and communication. However, there’s a difference between simply acknowledging this fact and choosing to leverage it. Particularly for startups, globalization is real, and scaling successfully requires cross-cultural awareness. This can be daunting when you’ve set your eyes on an ecosystem that feels far outside of your comfort zone.

We’ve compiled some helpful tips to learn more about Asian (business) culture from a German perspective that will also benefit your communication skills at home.

The tips are split into three parts and will give you the same insights we provide our incoming startups with. This way, you can get a glimpse of what you can expect as a potential future participant in our German Accelerator Southeast Asia program.

First things first: What is cultural awareness?

Being culturally aware is to have an understanding of cultural differences and a consciousness of how our beliefs and behavior can be shaped by cultural values, beliefs, and perceptions. It is essential to avoid misunderstandings and conflicts when working in a global context.

The ability to acknowledge cultural differences in the way we work has an impact on the effectiveness in which we interact with clients, suppliers, and colleagues from around the world. This applies whether these global networks are real or virtual, physical or electronic.

There are strategies you can learn to improve your cultural awareness. For example, in a precarious cross-cultural situation, asking a simple question such as, “When should I speak and when should I be quiet?” can help relieve tension and reassure both sides.

“If you want to do business in Asia, you need to understand the local culture and the business culture as well.” – Dr. Florian Doetzer, Mentor, German Accelerator Southeast Asia

Dr. Florian Doetzer

Cultural Implications

What becomes clear is that cross-cultural communication is complicated, but the first step to mastering it is cultivating an understanding of the differences we will encounter along the way. Something seemingly as simple as business card etiquette can get in the way of your goal to pitch your startup’s proverbial tents on new land.

If you do your homework and commit to fully immersing yourself in new business cultures, solid and informed communication will be your greatest ally. So read up, reach out, and go east!

The Culture Map – 8 Dimensions of Behavior Gaps between Countries

In her book, The Culture Map (2014), Erin Meyer outlines eight dimensions of behavior gaps between countries that can be navigated by means of cultural awareness. These are:

1. Communicating
2. Evaluating
3. Persuading
4. Disagreeing
5. Leading
6. Deciding
7. Scheduling
8. Trusting

Meyer places each dimension on a spectrum of modes of communication, where countries are then sorted according to their tendencies in communication styles. In many instances, Germany and Southeast Asian countries serve as good examples of the extremes, though there are exceptions.

Infographic cultural map

Source: based on Meyer E. (2014), The Cultural Map, Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business, p. 17

As you can see, disparities between German and Southeast Asian cultural behavior are either insignificantly small or immense.

What experiences have informed your cultural awareness? Were these business or personal scenarios?

In order to further understand the nuances of cultural awareness outlined above, we will be taking a close-up look at cross-cultural communication and behavior in the next two installations on Asian business culture. Stay tuned!