Malaysian Meetings

It is not unusual for meetings to start with quite a lot of small-talk which can be frustrating for a time-pressured western business executive who has a plane to catch.

Remember, however, that before business can commence relationships need to be established and that this relationship building process can take time. The amount of time given over to such small talk will probably diminish as the relationship develops.

The most important thing to remember in any meeting is that the relationship is of much greater importance than the issue being discussed. Relationships are based on loyalty, harmony, non-aggression, respect for the face of others and other such inter-personal issues. Therefore, always remain calm and diplomatic. Do not become overly animated in either speech or body gesture.
Try to show respect to the senior member of the Malay delegation by addressing questions to the senior person – even if the senior person is not the best speaker of English.

It is rarely worthwhile to try to push for a decision within the meeting as the decision will be taken only after all the facts have been analysed in very great detail and after all the relevant members of the group and the hierarchy have been consulted. Patience may be needed.

Time keeping (outside the Chinese community) can be patchy and it is not unusual for meetings to commence late and overrun.

Gift Giving

Gift giving is not as all-pervasive as it is in some other countries such as Japan or Korea, but gifts are still appreciated and seen as a relationship building tool. Gifts should be small and wrapped. It is unlikely that the gift will be opened in front of the gift-giver.
Be sensitive to the ethnic background of your contact. Do not give alcohol or pork-based items to Muslims and avoid sharp objects or clocks when dealing with the Chinese.
Gifts from home are always appreciated – whether they are corporate or more personally chosen.

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

Written and Produced by Keith Warburton

Free Download


Malaysia often appears very near the top of the tree in the ‘Best Country to Invest in’ league tables. With a highly skilled, well-educated workforce and a pro-business government Malaysia attracts high levels of foreign direct investment and Kuala Lumpur is rapidly becoming a destination of choice for global organisations who are looking to establish an Asian head office. In fact, more than 5000 companies from over 40 countries have established operations in Malaysia and that trend looks set to continue.

It would appear then that lots of global organisations consider doing business in Malaysia to be an attractive proposition. You should ask yourself why you haven’t considered Malaysia as a potential market if you are still to make that move. Political stability, great infrastructure, a highly motivated workforce and ideal geographic location make doing business in Malaysia sound like good business sense.

Yet Malaysia is a complex mix of different ethnicities all working and living together. This mix has produced a very distinctive local business culture which you need to understand before starting to build relationships and sell your good or services. Traditionally the minority Chinese section of society ran most business activities in the country but changing demographics and pro-Malay legislation have altered this picture over the past few decades. How have these changes impacted on day-to-day business dealings in Malaysia? What type of communication style can you expect from such a mixed-race culture? How do traditional hierarchical mindsets fit with the more modern matrixed approach used by so many foreign capital companies? You need to think about these things before you arrive in Kuala Lumpur rather than on the plane home. Don’t leave things to chance; do some homework.

This country profile provides an overview of some of the key aspects of Malaysian 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