Indonesian Communication Styles

Although there is a layer of very fluent speakers of English, foreign language levels are, on the whole, nowhere near as good as are found in neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia.

It may be that several more senior figures in an Indonesian delegation are very weak in English and that a translator is needed. In any event be aware of the possibility of misunderstanding and ensure that English is used in a very user-friendly way.

People are expected to be moderate in all communication situations. Honourable people do not raise their voices, nor do they openly disagree with people. Only disrespectful individuals would directly speak their minds in public. It is important to be perceived as being in control of your emotions. Any loss of control could lead to loss of face on your side and your worth will be diminished in the eyes of your key contacts. Try to speak in a quiet, gentle voice at all times.

It is difficult for people to say ‘no’, preferring to express disagreement very vaguely or through the use of silence. Do not assume that ‘yes’ means ‘I agree with you’ – it is just as likely to mean, ‘I understand what you have said’, which is neither agreement nor disagreement.

It is respectful to leave a pause before answering a question and by Western standards, these pauses can seem quite lengthy. Do not be tempted to break the pause by speaking. Be patient and allow your contacts the space to communicate in a comfortable manner.

The use of body language and facial expressions is limited, making it difficult for more expressive cultures to interpret responses. Do not be disquieted by a seeming lack of fervour, this is the normal cultural approach and is not an indication of lack of interest.

A brief overview of some key concepts to consider when doing business in Indonesia

Written and Produced by Keith Warburton

Free Download


Indonesia is complex. That is hardly surprising given the fact that the country spans thousands of islands, has over 300 languages and population of about 243 million (which is rising rapidly.) Navigating your way around Indonesia is both literally and figuratively difficult.

However, Indonesia is a country which has tremendous economic potential. The Indonesian government is working hard to try to reduce the country’s dependence on exports of (raw) commodities and to diversify into both the manufacturing and service sectors. In addition to this, vast sums are being pumped into the basic infrastructure of a nation which has suffered from some core infrastructure weaknesses for decades.

About 50% of Indonesia’s population are under the age of 28 which means that the country has a huge demographic dividend with large numbers of people about to enter the workforce. This younger generation is aspirational and consumerist in nature. It could be argued that internal demand for goods and services in Indonesia is about to explode in the next decade.

Many observers believe that, provided some form of political stability can be maintained, Indonesia represents a country with massive growth potential. If Indonesia is to achieve its potential it needs a great deal of external stimulus and support. It needs Foreign Direct Investment and it needs skills and expertise. Indonesia probably needs your goods or services and you are advised to seriously consider Indonesia as a future market if you are not already operating there.

However, Indonesia is a thoroughly Asian country with a rich and unique business culture. The Indonesian approach to business is heavily relationship focused. You need to take time to develop deep and lasting alliances and you need to really understand Indonesian business culture if you are to avoid alienating potential partners.

This country profile provides an overview of some of the key aspects of Indonesian business culture in a concise, easy to follow-format. The document includes information on:

  • Background to business
  • Business Structures
  • Management style
  • Meetings
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Women in business
  • Entertaining
  • Top tips