As a gateway into South-East Asia, Singapore is one of the top cities for international business, and if part of your job involves networking with contacts in Singapore, there are a few things you should consider before you step into that meeting room:
1. Language is key
You may not speak your contact’s native tongue, however, that doesn’t mean you can’t communicate effectively.
Singaporeans respond best to a humble approach, so whatever you do, don’t go in all guns blazing.
First and foremost, never talk down to your audience; this means don’t kick your meeting off with a high energy, ‘know it all’ approach. Begin with a humble tone and slowly divulge your expertise and knowledge.
Talk with humility and with a tone that is asking rather than telling. Singaporeans will generally buy from people who they like and trust, so building rapport is paramount to a successful meeting.
2. One culture does not fit all
With a diverse population of Chinese, Malay and Indian nationals, this destination is certainly a mixed grill of culture.
The three predominant ethnicities vary significantly in their beliefs and traditions, and without vetting who you’re about to interact with, you could inadvertently cause offence.
Reading the chemistry is very important. Analyse the situation, size up the audience and quickly decide how traditional or how westernised the person may be.
Before you request a meeting, make sure you do your research on who you are seeing and what their background is. You can find out a lot about someone through their LinkedIn page, or by researching the origin of their surname.
3. Pick your meeting time and location wisely
In Singapore, breakfast meetings are extremely rare. The key time to discuss business is at lunch and if you’re the invitation extender, you’ll be expected to pick up the bill.
Be sure to factor important holidays into your meeting dates, such as Chinese New Year, as inviting someone during religious ceremonies may be perceived as disrespectful.
4. First impressions count
Singaporeans are extremely punctual, so whatever you do, don’t be late.
Your handshake also says a lot about you – take a slightly firm approach, however, don’t be overbearing and go in too strongly.
Be conscious of your body language also, as it speaks speak volumes. By maintaining a calm demeanour and a placid, non-aggressive tone, your business contact will more likely relate to your message.
At the point of introduction, ensure you have a presentable business card with you, as this will be an extension of you when you leave the meeting. Business cards are exchanged using both hands and should be in good condition – never present a tattered card.
If your business contact is Chinese, it’s also a good idea to have one side of your card translated into their language. Have the characters printed in gold too – this is an auspicious colour and the gesture will go a long way.
5. Business attire
In case you weren’t aware, Singapore has an extremely humid climate. It therefore makes sense to prepare your outfit accordingly and avoid showing up a sweaty mess. The etiquette here is casual – i.e. neck ties or restrictive pencil skirts aren’t necessary. Linen or light wool is recommended for the hot weather and don’t be afraid to remove your jacket if you’re feeling the heat.
6. Negotiate wisely
If you take away one thing from this blog, remember Singaporeans are non-confrontational and won’t respond well to pressure.
It’s not uncommon for them to take at least 10 seconds to reply to your question – if you jump in too soon out of impatience, you may miss their answer.
As with most social interactions, the other person’s perception of you is often a guessing game. In this instance, some will look for pure value in what you’re selling, some will look for trustworthiness, and some will want to like you before they listen or believe you.
Gauge what is important to them and follow that path. Singaporeans generally buy from people they like and even if you have less of a solution, they will find a reason to work with you.
7. Gift giving
Gift giving is a common practice the world over, and in many cases, there are things to consider in the process.
If you are giving a large gift, make sure you present it to the whole group. Whereas if you are providing smaller gifts, make sure they are individually wrapped and there are enough for everyone in the meeting.
Don’t be offended if the gift is rejected at first either – this is a common response with Singaporeans and is done so out of politeness. It is believed this will prevent them from appearing greedy. Continue to insist that they accept the item and once they have done so, tell the recipient you are happy they did so.
Do not expect the recipient to open the gift in front of you. Reason for this is if it turns out to be a poor choice, this will avoid any awkwardness between the recipient and gift giver.
If you want to be extra cautious, check out the perfect items for Chinese, Malay and Indian Singaporeans here.
8. Ask questions
Traditionally, Singaporeans appreciate being asked a lot of questions in meetings. It demonstrates that you’re knowledgeable on the topic being discussed, while being interested in their opinion and advice. If you can add a little humour into the meeting, along with social talk, this will be well received and a good ice breaker.
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