BUSINESSMAN’S GUIDE TO INDONESIAN ETIQUETTE

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In Indonesia, most matters – personal and professional – are steeped in tradition.Businessmen visiting Indonesia would do well to be aware of these unwritten protocols. Forewarned is forearmed.

Let’s Make a Deal!

What you should know before negotiating :

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  • Taking the time to develop solid, long-term personal relationships is of vital importance when doing business in Indonesia. Here business culture and relationships are based on respect and trust. Consequently, you will have to take time to establish good will.
  • Indonesians tend to be very friendly and you should reciprocate this immediate friendliness. They are more likely to buy from people who treat them with respect and seem to genuinely like them.
  • Your presentation material and company literature should be (if possible) translated into Bahasa Indonesia, the   country’s   official   language.   All   official correspondence is in Bahasa Indonesia.
  • Indonesian business culture is extremely hierarchical. If you are part of a negotiating team or other type of delegation, line up so that the most important individuals will be introduced first. Also, if you are introducing two people, state the name of the most important person first.
  • Your business card should contain as much information as possible, including your full name, business title and qualifications. Indonesians include all of this data on their card, as well as any titles of nobility.
  • Business cards should be exchanged immediately after an initial handshake and greeting. Moreover, ensure that the card is offered with your right hand, facing the recipient.
  • When you receive another person’s card, make a show of carefully examining it for a few moments and then remarking upon it before putting it in your card case or on a nearby table. Be aware that accepting a business card and then immediately stuffing it into your pocket will be perceived as disrespectful.
  • Meetings tend to be very formal. The Indonesian participants will enter the room based on their hierarchical position and then take a seat. You will be expected to remain standing until this ritual concludes.
  • Politeness is a necessary part of a successful business relationship in Indonesia but will not, however, affect the determination of Indonesian business people to reach their objectives.
  • The meeting may begin with a bit of preliminary “small talk,” but you should be prepared to focus on business shortly after the tea has been served.
  • The pace of business negotiations in Indonesia is slower than you may be accustomed to in the west. Consequently, it is important to remain patient and accommodating in all of your dealings.
  • The group, rather than the individual, prevails in Indonesian business culture. The individual identity is subsumed into the group.
  • The oldest or most competent member usually assumes the leadership position in the group. Age, seniority or military rank accords status.
  • Superiors are expected to be paternalistic, yet they typically seek the consensus of the group.
  • Since individuals are expected to be a part of a group, it is the group that is addressed.
  • Superiors are treated with tremendous respect.
  • “Saving face” or ‘malu’ in Bahasa Indonesia, is an important concept to understand and in Indonesian business culture, a person’s reputation and social standing rests on this concept. Keep your cool and refrain from showing that you are upset. By remaining calm at all times, you will be perceived as being able to control your emotions, rather than allowing them to control you. Causing embarrassment or loss of composure, even unintentionally,   can   seriously   harm   business negotiations.
  • Speaking is conducted in a quiet voice and without displaying too much emotion. Confrontation is avoided and problems or areas of difference are alluded to in an indirect manner.
  • You may find that the Indonesian participants will say very little during a meeting. This reticence, however, should not be interpreted negatively. Often, participants will remain aloof until they convene with their group to gather a consensus. Indonesians tend to be soft-spoken, and you should make the effort to do the same.
  • During a meeting or presentation, you will have to take the initiative to discern if your audience understands you as they may not admit in front of others that they are having difficulties. It is also advisable to speak slowly and clearly.
  • Indonesians may allow a person to proceed incorrectly rather than correct him or her and cause embarrassment to that person. In effect, an Indonesian can “honour” someone’s authority while allowing him or her to make an error that could prove to be disastrous.
  • Indonesians tend to be good negotiators, intent on obtaining the best deal possible. You will earn their respect if you maintain a positive, persistent attitude.
  • It is normal to “bargain” over a business deal. Indonesians routinely bargain for most purchases and exchanges in their daily lives, and can be very astute negotiators.
  • Deferential listening and being soft spoken are aimed at maintaining harmony. Nevertheless, hard bargainers are respected. There are, in reality, no fixed prices and starting positions may appear far too unreasonable.
  • Before answering a question, Indonesian business protocol demands that the respondent make a respectful pause—lasting as long as 10 to 15 seconds. Westerners will sometimes mistakenly assume that they have an agreement and resume talking before an Indonesian has a chance to give a genuine response.
  • To successfully hold a conversation, it’s essential for Indonesians to know if they are speaking with a person who is their superior, inferior or equal. Generally, they will feel  uncomfortable until they learn your status—hence the tendency to ask some personal questions.
  • Some Indonesians will often say “yes” when they don’t actually mean it. For example, a “yes” may be used to disguise a lukewarm response such as “I’ll think about it” or an outright “no.” You will have to be alert to the subtleties in conversation to help discern the sincerity of the response.
  • If you can tell that the respondent is deliberately ignoring your question, this is often another way of indicating a “no” answer.
  • Don’t assume that a smile is an indication of amusement or approval. Frequently, smiling is used to mask embarrassment, shyness, nervousness, disapproval, and other feelings of distress.
  • It is considered polite among some Indonesians to offer both the positive and negative possibilities in practically every question that requires a decision. For example, rather than asking, “Would you like to go to the convention ?’ they are likely to ask “Do you want to go to the convention or not ?”
  • Female business travelers are likely to find acceptance, since a significant proportion of Indonesian women already   work   as   professionals.   Still,   visiting businesswomen are advised to act and dress conservatively and professionally at all times.
  • In Indonesia, the position of women is quite different from other Muslim countries: they can vote, have full civil rights, and on many islands, hold leadership positions. Moreover, Indonesian women have never been veiled or secluded.
  • Indonesian business is hierarchical and decision-making lies with senior management. Be sure you are meeting with higher-ranking individuals, especially in the deal’s final stages. A deal is never complete until all the paperwork is signed
  • In Indonesia, the decision-making process is slow and deliberate. If you attempt to rush or put pressure of any kind on the decision, you will only risk alienating your Indonesian counterparts. Moreover, a very low-keyed and thoughtful approach to business will help you maintain harmony with the Indonesian side.

Business Dress

  • Indonesia is hot and humid throughout the year. During the day, most of the lowlands have a temperature of 75 to 95 degrees F, and humidity around 75%. Lower temperatures occur only in the mountainous regions, where business travelers do not normally visit.
  • Because of the intense humidity, clothes made of natural fibers such as cotton and linen are often the best choices.
  • The rainy season is from September through February, but sudden showers occur all year long.
  • Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim culture, so conservative dress is key in many situations. Err on the formal side until you know to dress otherwise.
  • The safest option for a visiting businessman is to wear a suit jacket and tie, and remove them if it seems appropriate. A suit and tie is essential, however, during formal meetings with high-ranking dignitaries.
  • Sometimes because of the extreme heat and humidity, business dress is more casual. Standard formal office wear for men includes dark trousers and a light-coloured long-sleeved shirt and tie, without a jacket.
  • If an invitation specifies “lounge suit”, this actually means a standard Western business suit for men. At informal dinners – whether in restaurants or at the residence – a long sleeved batik shirt is accepted attire.
  • Many Indonesian men wear an open-necked batik shirt to the office; these garments are also popular for casual wear.
  • Women must be sensitive to Muslim and Hindu beliefs, and, consequently, wear blouses that cover at least their upper arms. Skirts should be knee length or longer.
  • For women, standard business attire includes dresses or blouse and skirt combinations, with sleeves and hems that are conservative in length. Business suits and hosiery are reserved for more formal offices, while pants and pantsuits are best avoided. Dark and muted colours tend to prevail, since bright and vivid hues are generally considered inappropriate for the workplace.
  • Jeans are acceptable casual wear.
  •  Regardless of what you choose to wear, make the effort to maintain a clean, well-groomed appearance.

 

First Name or Title ?

Respectfully addressing others

 

  • In Indonesia, names are considered sacred and must be treated with respect. Make every effort not to mispronounce the names of the Indonesians you encounter.
  • Foreigners  often   have  difficulties   pronouncing Indonesian names, so always take your time over an introduction. Repeat the title and name of the person and ask if you are pronouncing them correctly.
  • No matter how difficult or unusual sounding a name, do not laugh at it.
  • Every variation of personal naming patterns can be found among Indonesia’s ethnic groups. People may have one name or two, short names or long, a given name followed by a family name or vice versa, or one name and one initial.
  • With so many complexities, it is best to ask an Indonesian what you should call him or her. Repeat the sequence of names and make sure you have them correct. Specify what they should call you (they may be unsure as to which is your surname), but choose the same degree of formality.
  • Most businesspeople you meet should be addressed with at least a title and their name. If a person does not have a professional title (such as ‘Doctor* or ‘Vice-President’), “Mr.” or “Madam”, “Mrs.* or “Miss*, plus the name may be used.
  • The traditional Indonesian forms of address are :

– “Bapak” – “Mr.” (this term precedes any other titles)

– “Ibu” – “Madam”,  “Mrs” or “Miss” (any woman, married or unmarried)

  • The courtesy titles “Bapak” and “Ibu” replace “Mr.” or “Mrs.” in front of a surname. Note that “Bapak” literally means “father” and “lbu” is ‘mother’ and are used as a manner of respectful address to seniors in terms of age, rank or position.
  • In a formal introduction, the preferred sequence is:

1. “Bapak” or “Ibu”

2. academic title, if any (alternatively, an academic title may be stated at the end of this list)

3. honorific, if any (a title of nobility)

4. the individual’s given and family name

5. business or political title

  • Indonesia was a colony of the Netherlands, and usually uses Dutch academic titles. These include:

– Drs: “Doktorandus”, a graduate in any discipline except engineering or law (male)

– Dra: “Doktoranda”, the same degree as above, when awarded to a woman

– Ir: “Insinjur”, a graduate with an engineering degree (male or female)

– S H: “Sarjana Hukum”, a graduate with a law degree (male or female)

  • Westerners should use their usual academic titles, rather than translate them into the Indonesian equivalent.

Conversation — Welcome Topics

 

  • There is a prevailing belief in Indonesia that the office is the only place to discuss business. Therefore, refrain from discussing business in a social situation, unless your Indonesian companions bring up the subject.
  • To successfully hold a conversation, it’s essential for Indonesians to know if they are speaking with a person who is their superior, inferior or equal. Generally, they will feel uncomfortable until they learn your status—hence the tendency to ask some personal questions.
  • Typically, very little is said during meals. Indonesians generally prefer to concentrate on their food, and a silent meal should not be a cause for concern.
  • It is advisable to restrict oneself to general topics like the weather, family, travel tourism, sports, food with a bit of praise about the local cuisine, future plans and success stories of the group or organization, and some anecdotes about your attempts to learn Bahasa Indonesia.
  • On the other hand stay clear of topics dealing with politics, bureaucracy, Indonesian customs that may be unfamiliar or peculiar to you, religion etc.

Appointment Alert!

  • When writing the date in Indonesia, the day is listed first, followed by the month, then the year (i.e., November 15, 2001 would appear as 15/12/02).
  • Large corporations require you to schedule appointments more than a week in advance, while most other organizations are willing to make appointments on short notice.
  • Business hours are generally 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Thursday, with additional hours on Friday and Saturday mornings. Some businesses have a full workday on Fridays, although Muslim employees will take at least one hour off on Friday to pray. Saturday hours generally end by 1:00 p.m.
  • The traditional lunch period is from 12:00 p.m. or 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.; lunch is often the largest meal of the day.
  • Most government offices keep an 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. schedule, with a half-day on Friday or Saturday.
  • Executives tend to be quite accessible here, including CEOs.
  • Although business transactions and correspondence are frequently conducted in English, attempts to use Bahasa Indonesia, the country’s official language, are also appreciated.
  • As a visitor to the country, you are expected to be on time for all business appointments. This is especially true if you are meeting someone of a higher social standing than yourself.
  • Shop / stores hours vary. Most shops will be open five or six days a week, and will open at 9:00 or 10:00 a.m. and close at 6:00 or 7:00 p.m.
  • During the first meeting, presenting your Indonesian counterparts with small gifts is one of the best ways to display your interest and sincerity in establishing a long-term business relationship. On this occasion, the gifts should be modest but thoughtful, such as tokens representative of your country or that feature your company logo.
  • You are also expected to give gifts to celebrate an occasion, when you are invited to an Indonesian home, when a visitor comes to tour your office or workplace, and to thank someone for providing you with a service.
  • Unwrapping a gift in front of the giver is not a part of Indonesian culture. This action implies that the recipient is greedy and impatient. Instead, the recipient will briefly say ‘thank-you’, set aside the gift, and then open it only after your departure. You will also be expected to follow this ritual when you receive a gift.
  • Western advertising has popularized flowers as gifts. Make sure you give an even number of flowers because an odd number is considered an omen of bad luck.

Gift Giving 

  • During the first meeting, presenting your Indonesian counterparts with small gifts is one of the best ways to display your interest and sincerity in establishing a long-term business relationship. On this occasion, the gifts should be modest but thoughtful, such as tokens representative of your country or that feature your company logo.
  • You are also expected to give gifts to celebrate an occasion, when you are invited to an Indonesian home, when a visitor comes to tour your office or workplace, and to thank someone for providing you with a service.
  • Unwrapping a gift in front of the giver is not a part of Indonesian culture. This action implies that the recipient is greedy and impatient. Instead, the recipient will briefly say ‘thank-you’, set aside the gift, and then open it only after your departure. You will also be expected to follow this ritual when you receive a gift.
  • Western advertising has popularized flowers as gifts. Make sure you give an even number of flowers because an odd number is considered an omen of bad luck.

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