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.
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This World Business Culture profile is designed as an introduction to business culture in Indonesia only and a more detailed understanding needs a more in-depth exploration which we can provide through our training and consultancy services.