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