Having an awareness of local ways can sometimes make or break a deal when a business negotiation is underway. For example, loudly and assertively expressing your opinions might be considered a sign of confidence in a boardroom in the West. However, unless you’re the boss, this is usually impolite in Asian countries, including Singapore and Malaysia.
A basic understanding of such regional and cultural nuances can be a huge help in conducting cross-border discussions effectively. And it doesn’t take a great deal of effort to learn some general ways you can adapt. Here are five useful tips to keep in mind when negotiating a deal in Singapore and Malaysia.
1. Don’t be Aggressive or Confrontational
People in Singapore and Malaysia place great importance on showing humility and respect in a business setting. You should do the same at the negotiating table.
Avoid aggressive or confrontational speech and behavior. At a meeting, if you're surrounded by senior-ranking members who are a generation (or more) older than you, you can address them with an honorific such as “sir" or “ma’am”, or use "Mr.” or “Ms./Mrs.” + their last name. First name basis is not a good idea and cannot be assumed, as in the West. You'll progress much further in your negotiations if you take care to present an even temperament and listen patiently to the other side, rather than talking over others or showing off your knowledge.
2. Focus on Getting a Win–Win Outcome
Unless you're a ruthless negotiator, mutual gains are usually the goal in a business deal. Win–win is especially important in Singapore and Malaysia, where the concept of “saving face” is always a consideration.
Instead of focusing only on the best possible outcome for you and your company, take the view of your counterpart and see how it will benefit them as well. Try your best to ensure that everyone leaves the negotiating table with something positive, which will make future discussions a lot smoother. That’s what win–win is all about.
3. Understand the Real Meaning of "Yes" and "No"
When the other party says “yes,” it may only mean they've heard what you said, but not necessarily agreed to it. You'll rarely hear a direct “no” in Singapore and Malaysia, as that's considered harsh. The “saving face” concept comes into play here. Those who have spent time in other Asian countries may see a familiar pattern here.
Often, people will say something like, “We'll think about it.” If you get a direct “no,” that means they're simply not interested. In this case, it's usually best for you to move on to another point. Consider such direct messages a gift, because they doesn’t leave you guessing at the meaning.
4. Tailor Your Approach to Suit the Individual
Both Singapore and Malaysia have diverse, multi-ethnic societies. Singapore, especially, has a very global makeup, so you may encounter a diverse range of cultural backgrounds in the boardroom. As most negotiations are usually carried out over a series of meetings, it's useful to keep track of your discussions with each individual. That way you’ll be prepared the next time you meet them.
When you’re meeting lots of new people, keeping track of everyone’s details can be tricky. However, those tidbits of information, such as their hobbies and preferences, can be extremely valuable as you build the relationship.
The best contact management tools, such as Sansan, let you store notes about your contacts and even swap them with your colleagues. Enter in those little details, such as your contact’s personality and negotiation style, and build up a valuable profile on them.
With these apps, you can also note down the progress of your interactions to track what communication techniques work best. Share these tips within the company to give your coworkers access to a treasure trove of preparatory knowledge. This is also incredibly useful when negotiating with a certain contact or company in the future.
5. Allow Some Room for Bargaining
Singaporeans and Malaysians are known to appreciate a good bargain. It’s the same in the boardroom, too. Be prepared and work out how much concession your company can give, even before you sit down to work on a deal.
Another tip is to keep a list of areas where the other side asks for more. You can then ask for something in return.
You’ll probably find similarities between Singapore and Malaysia in terms of their culture. This is true in business as well. These nuances may be different from what you are familiar with, so be ready to adopt a subtler approach here.
What other negotiation techniques do you rely on when conducting business in Singapore and Malaysia?