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Singapore is a safe and prosperous nation. The infrastructure is excellent, corruption is low, and the people are hardworking, making it suitable for business.
Singaporeans live in a multicultural society influenced by British colonialism, making doing business in Singapore a little tricky. You’ll have to act accordingly depending on who you’re talking to, and it is prudent to find out if your business associates are Chinese, Malay, or Indian. Although Singapore is slightly more relaxed than other countries in Asia, politeness and saving face must always come first when doing business. It will become apparent right from the introductory phases and remain critical until the final negotiations. Here are some things to expect when building a business relationship in Singapore.
Due to Singapore’s ethnic and religious diversity, there are a few things to keep in mind when meeting business partners. It’s polite to acknowledge the most senior person first, but older Singaporeans tend to be reserved and may not choose to shake hands. Younger executives who received their education abroad may have adopted this Western custom; however, the grip should be light when shaking hands.
Ethnic Chinese will shake hands with Westerners of both sexes. However, conservative Indians and Malays might not feel comfortable doing this with foreign women. In that case, it’s best to nod and smile while saying namaste to Indians and salaam to Malays.
Business cards don’t need to be presented with as much seriousness as in China or Japan. Still, try to remember to give and receive them with both hands when dealing with Chinese businesspeople. Indians and Malays won’t be too concerned with the manner of exchange, but it would be a good idea to pass and receive cards with the right hand. Study the card belonging to a Singaporean for a moment, ask one or two questions about the individual’s position and place the card on a table.
Like people in the majority of Asian countries, Singaporeans communicate indirectly. Subtle nuances in speech are the norm rather than the exception. They will not say ‘no’ deliberately. Moreover, a ‘yes’ can merely imply that a direct question is understood. Vague and ambiguous answers are often given to save face and preserve harmony, mainly when there is more than one person on the other side of the negotiating table. Openly expressing impatience or anger is a big no-no. Despite of whether they are Chinese, Malay, or Indian, Singaporean business people won’t trust a person who can’t remain calm.
Singapore has four official languages; English, Mandarin Chinese, Malay, and Tamil are most commonly used in the country. Although English is the preferred language in the international business arena, virtually all Singaporeans speak it as a second language.
There is a homegrown dialect that has been developed by Singaporeans called Singlish, and this incorporates Chinese and Malay grammatical structures with lots of non-English colloquialisms. Singaporean partners will be mindful of the inability of foreigners to interpret Singlish and stick to standard English. Slang will be misunderstood or not understood at all by Singaporean executives. Avoid it while discussing business.
Exchanging gifts are an essential part of doing business in Singapore. Choosing a present will require some careful thought because each ethnic group treats them differently. They shouldn’t be too flashy because the last thing you want is to send the message that you’re trying to bribe somebody.
Generally, it’s best to wrap an object on bright paper. A color that is favored in other Asian countries would be well-received in Singapore. Red and yellow are excellent choices. Black, white and blue is best avoided because they represent death and mourning. When dealing with Indians and Malays, do not give alcohol or any products made of pigskin. Chinese clients won’t like clocks, knives, or other sharp instruments.
Several weeks before departing for Singapore, get a mutual friend to act as an intermediary to introduce both parties. It will take time for Singaporeans to trust their foreign counterparts. Rushing into things will guarantee failure.