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11 Jan Malaysian Business Etiquette: Greetings and Meetings

Malaysia has a fair amount of foreigners in the country who coexist peacefully with the locals. Malaysia is a melting pot of cultures and people from various parts of the world visit the country for tourism, business activities, education and much more.

The major ethnic groups in Malaysia are the Malays, Chinese and the Indians.  When conducting business in Malaysia, it is very common to run into people from all or some of these groups.  Here’s what to expect the next time you meet a client from Malaysia.

Malays

Greetings:  A large number of Malays practice Islam therefore it is usual for Malay businessmen and businesswomen to refrain from physical contact, especially with the opposite gender.  It is advisable to let them initiate a handshake so as to avoid any uncomfortable situations.

Meetings: While Malays aren’t known to be very punctual, they would most definitely expect you to be bang on time if not proactively early. Wait for the head of the delegation to formally start the meeting as Malays like to spend the first few minutes discussing non-business related matters before easing into the matter at hand.

Malaysia

Chinese

Greetings: The Chinese in Malaysia are usually comfortable with handshakes amongst members of the same and opposite gender. The handshakes tend to be longer, with a slightly less firm grip. Should you feel uncertain about extending your hand first, it is advisable to let your business host initiate the handshake.

Meetings: The Chinese are seldom late for their meetings and prefer efficiency during them. Therefore, ensure that you are completely prepared for the meeting ahead of time. The Chinese are known to be on point and expect the same in return.

Indians

Greetings: The Indians consider the handshake as an acceptable form of greeting.  However, some members of the opposite gender might be uncomfortable with the gesture hence, it is advisable to wait for them initiate and follow suit. In rare cases, a nod with a smile is considered to be an acceptable form of greeting.

Meetings: As with the Malays, Indian business people tend to be a little relaxed when it comes to their arrival time but also hate to be kept waiting. Once again, you will need to ensure that you are highly punctual.  In a similar fashion to that of the Malays, your Indian associate may spend a little time talking about general matters before heading into business related talk.

Across all the 3 cultures, there are some similarities:

  • Generally, the women are introduced to the men, the older is introduced to the younger and the higher ranking member to the lower ranking member.
  • Gift giving during a business meeting is not mandatory. However, should it be an occasion where it is necessary, special care must be taken while gifting Malays as well as Indians.
  • Gifts should not be wrapped in white, black or blue as they symbolize death or sadness in all the three cultures.
  • Business cards are exchanged after greeting each other. Make sure the business cards are treated with care as they indicate how much you respect the other person.

 

Malaysia- Kuching

Always remember to be polite and courteous and to keep a calm tone during a conversation. Due to the language barrier and cultural differences, there can be instances where the tone of a conversation is misinterpreted. As with everything, take time to understand the working of the people and the culture in order to succeed in building relations and partnerships. Or better yet, learn the language and impress everyone!

The official language of Malaysia is Malay, and Chinese Mandarin and Tamil are also widely spoken. Learn them now!