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Silence too is an important part of communication in Singapore. It is customary to pause before answering a question, to indicate that the person has given the question the appropriate thought and consideration that is needed. Westerners habit of responding quickly to a question, to Singaporeans, often indicates thoughtlessness and rude behavior. Their demeanor is typically calm, and Westerners more aggressive style is often seen as off putting ("Singapore: Language," 2009). Authority is to be respected for both employees of an organization, in Singapore, and when dealing with other organizations (Tse, 2008), and communication content and tone should represent this respect. Business etiquette is also different in Singapore than in many Western countries.
Cultural Business Etiquette in Singapore:
Business is more formal in Singapore than non-Asian organizations are often used to. There are strict rules of protocol, with a clear chain of command, which is expected to be kept on both sides of the relationship. Personal relationships are key to all business relationships in Singapore and take time to build. Networking is extremely important and is built on long-standing personal relationships of others and the proper introductions to introduce new people into the network. As Singapore is a group-oriented culture, these links are often forged based on ethnicity, education, or place of employment. Once recognized as a member of a certain group, individuals are expected to obey the unwritten rules of the group. Tse (2008) surmises that Singaporeans often have trouble initially trusting someone they perceive to not be part of their in-group. Respect and courtesy in all dealings are expected, with meetings being made at least 2 weeks in advance ("Singapore: Language," 2009). Again, a non-Asian MNE employee may be used to being able to fit in an appointment with only a few days notice, if they have a flexible schedule, and may not plan accordingly when doing business in Singapore.
An appointment not must be made significantly in advance, but Singaporeans often schedule their meetings in writing. This echoes the formality found in many other aspects of their business dealings. Although most will schedule a meeting via e-mail, telephone or fax, most will not schedule a meeting during Chinese New Year, as businesses are often closed for that entire week. When scheduling a meeting for negotiations, a list of people who will be attending, and their titles, should be sent well in advance. Seating at the meeting is established by organizational hierarchy. As Singaporeans are non-confrontational, most will not simply say "no" and a "yes" does not necessarily mean an agreement has been made. When signing a contract with ethnic Chinese, the signing date may be decided upon by an astrologer or feng shui man (geomancer) ("Singapore: Language," 2009). Although these cultural nuances will obviously affect a non-Asian organization setting up a base in Singapore, even small things, like business cards have an effect as well.
After the initial introductions are made, business cards are exchanged. This exchange takes place using both hands. If an organization is dealing with ethnic Chinese, in Singapore, it is considered polite to have the reverse side of the card translated into Mandarin. It is also polite to examine the business card you've been handed carefully, before putting them in a business card case. The premise of this is that Singaporeans believe that how you treat their business card is indicative of how you will treat their relationship ("Singapore: Language," 2009). The practice of quickly tucking them away found in Western culture is considered rude in Singapore.
These cultural and diversity issues that will affect a non-Asian MNE from establishing a base in Singapore all reiterate a singular point. A nation's culture affects how the individual's within the culture operate and how the businesses, built by these individuals, operate. As Javidan, Dorfman, de Luque, and House (2006) note, culture colors how people perceive the world around them and affects every aspect of their behavior. Organizations wanting to do business in Singapore must not only understand the cultural differences, as outlined earlier, but also must be able to adapt to these unique cultural requirements, if they want to be successful.
Low and Chapman (2003) note that culture is learned from other societal members who are on the same level as the individual. Given the diversity of the Singaporean people, with their four different primary ethnic groups and the array of religions, there is both a common ground for understanding the culture of Singapore and also a cultural diversity, within the Singaporean culture itself. Those who are ethnically Chinese, Indian, Malay, or European may consider themselves to be Singaporean; however, there is a sub-culture driven by continued ethnic segregation in the different ethnic neighborhoods within the country (Ismail & Shaw, 2006).
Organizations have a challenge in integrating new members into their current corporate culture, even when these new members come from similar societal cultures, according to Edewor and Aluke (200). These individuals must be integrated in order to be effective members of the organization that can engage in collective learning. When the organization must integrate those from a different societal culture, the challenges increase. Non-Asian MNEs may be from a culture where the individual is the central focus of management and organizational style. However, in a collectivism culture, such as Singapore, the needs of the group and the group's shared beliefs, as well as cooperation are more highly valued. An organization must understand this and than utilize it to their benefit, if they wish to be successful in a country like Singapore . There is an increasing pressure for management to more effectively manage diversity issues at home (Sippola & Smale, 2007), and this same diversity, if not managed properly, can be even more detrimental when an organization expands into another country, especially one so culturally different, like Singapore is when compared to Western countries. Yet, when managed correctly, diversity can be a competitive advantage (Shuen, 2006).
The Asian-Pacific region of the world is a prime target for global expansion in today's increasingly globalized world. Within this region, Singapore has placed itself as one of the leading spots for expansion for many non-Asian companies. However, there are several cultural and diversity issues organizations must be aware of in order to establish a base in Singapore effectively. These cultural differences include: lack of recognizable management styles by Westerners, communication differences, and business etiquette differences. The diverse ethnic and religious culture of Singapore has made the country a blend of Eastern and Western cultures, yet there is still so much that is uniquely Singaporean that to expect that methods conducting business as normal in another country would be effective is unwise.
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