Cultural differences between the East and West

When it comes to business communication and decision making, both East and West have different points of view and stances.

If you notice in contracts, agreements and appointment, the cultural differences can be huge.

Many think that business negotiations fail due to technical difficulties such as lack of preparation and planning. Instead, cultural factors can affect communication and decision making process greatly.

Understanding how businesses works in both Western and Eastern countries can help in connecting with your foreign counterparts.

To build your interpersonal communication across cultures, you need to be aware of these aspect:




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Time is universal but both cultures perceive time differently.

The Westerners place high importance on time efficiency and punctuality.

On the other hand, time is a lot more flexible in the East and they may have tendency to divert from tasks which may result in interruptions and non-related conversations during meetings and negotiations. However, such behaviour does not necessarily reveal a lack of interest or respect. The best way to go about this is to be understanding, patient and have higher flexibility with scheduling and deadlines.

Asians also place relationships on a higher pedestal, as family and group interests usually precede the interests of business. You might experience business plan being rescheduled due to family factors.




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When it comes to attitude, the West is seen to be analytical and detailed. They solve their problems by focusing on the problem at hand and derive a solution based of the pros and cons of that particular problem. As for the East, many would try to use a holistic approach to a problem as they prefer a well-rounded solution that benefits the group as a whole.


Communication styles


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The differences in communication style should be looked at.

The West has always been known for its openness as many of them are at ease when discussing sensitive topics (to some) like sex, gender and discrimination. However, this can be considered as taboo in the East so make sure you know what topics and area of interest you should talk about depending on your associates’ backgrounds.

Forthrightness also can be deemed as something common in the West but rude in most Asian and Middle Eastern countries. When there’s a disagreement, Westerners normally take the “straight talk” approach but such approach may cause their Eastern partners to feel like they have lost “face”. Hence, to say “no” directly can be deemed as disrespectful and sometimes, an offence. If you disagree about something when dealing with Eastern partners, you should consider to take this conversation outside the meeting room and discuss it personally with the person in charge.


*Text by Chris Tan