When initiating relationships with Indonesian partners, it is worth knowing what to focus on and what gestures or behaviours to avoid. Although the official language is Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia), negotiations can be easily carried out in English. Indonesia is one of the countries where authority and hierarchy are highly respected, and Indonesian culture is very different from the European one. Therefore, it is easy to make a mistake that may even terminate negotiations.
When starting negotiations with Indonesian counterparties, it is worth bearing in mind that in their country punctuality is highly valued, especially when meeting people with high social status. Since the majority of Indonesian businessmen come from China, they will most likely be punctual to the minute. If your partners are ethnic Malays, their approach to time should be more flexible. Interestingly, Indonesians will come to social gatherings at least half an hour late. However, should a very important person be invited, the other guests would be asked to arrive at least 15 minutes early so that no one arrives after the guest of honour. Indonesians are doing business only with people they know and like, which is why the first meeting can be strictly introductory. Establishing relations takes a lot of time, so patience is advisable, and it will pay off over time.
How to greet Indonesians?
If the meeting does take place, remember to greet the participants properly, usually by shaking hands. In Indonesia, this gesture resembles clasping the hands, which usually lasts several seconds. It should be borne in mind that most Indonesians are Muslims and Hindus, hence the greeting between a man and a woman takes place without any physical contact. If an Indonesian man was brought up in the Western culture, they should not have a problem with greeting a woman, but the decision to shake hands should belong to him.
Indonesians of Chinese descent traditionally greet by bowing down, but sometimes they also follow the Western customs and shake hands, also with women. The Indian way of greeting, however, is a slight bow with folded hands, like for praying. It is important to know that greetings in Indonesia are a kind of a ceremonial and you should not hurry, because quick greeting can be perceived as the lack of respect.
Handing business cards
At the beginning of the meeting, exchange business cards with the counterparties. They should be printed in English, although it would be a good idea to translate them into the language of the business partner, i.e. Bahasa or Chinese. The exchange of business cards is also an important ceremonial in Indonesia. You should use both hands to pass them to everyone present. The most elegant form, however, would be to hand a business card with your right hand while supporting your right wrist with your left hand.
Remember that surnames are pronounced in different ways in Indonesia, so make sure you read them correctly from a business card. Indonesian business partners should be addressed using their title and surname, as well as academic and noble titles, if applicable. If you meet with representatives from China, you must first say the surname and then the first name or names.
A few words about dress code
Indonesia has high temperatures and high humidity, which is why dress code in business is often casual. However, we are still obliged by etiquette, so men should wear dark long trousers, a white long-sleeved shirt and a light jacket made of good quality linen. Women are required to wear a long-sleeved blouse and a skirt covering the knees. Despite the warm climate, you should not wear bright colours because they are not welcome in business. However, the above rules are not always applicable, so it is worth observing the level of formality of Indonesians, and adapt to it. Because of Muslim influence, however, women should cover their arms and knees.
Talks and negotiating behaviour
Indonesians holding managerial positions are somewhat different from their European equivalents because they willingly meet with foreign businessmen. The meeting itself is accompanied by coffee and tea, and often fruits and biscuit are served as well. It is worth knowing, however, that you can consume it only after the second invitation of the host, and it is necessary to wait until the hosts takes a few sips of the beverage first. Interestingly, during the meetings, we may be asked about our marital or material status. This way Indonesians investigate the interlocutor’s status in order to determine their rank towards them. However, you can avoid awkward questions by explaining that in our country you are not asked about such matters.
The word "no" ... does not exist
Indonesians rarely say no because it is rude in their opinion. Therefore, you must pay attention to the words spoken. If we for example hear "yes, but ...”, it means "no". Also, sucking air through the teeth should be read as "no", as does the evasive answer. Indonesians use this method to get the other party to change their strategy or refuse. The contract will not be concluded until both parties sign the documents. This may be delayed, too, because businessmen from Indonesia, especially those of Chinese origin, like to consult the stars and wait with the signing of the contract until the successful days come.
Even if such prolonged negotiations can be frustrating, you cannot not show any anger. Otherwise you will lose face and prove that you are not able to control yourself, and thus to do business. According to Indonesians, a person who shows anger in public is unworthy of trust and respect.
When silence falls ...
It may happen that we experience uncomfortable silence during a meeting or a meal. However, it should not be interrupted or filled with forced conversation. Silence offers time for thinking and means neither acceptance nor refusal. On the other hand, during meals there is not much talk neither.
Another thing that should be considered are differences in body language. In Indonesia, you should not cross your ankles or show shoe soles. This is extremely offensive. Standing with your hands on your hips will also be poorly received. It is associated with aggression. Similarly, do not stare intensely at the other person.
Giving and receiving gifts
Handing gifts is another equally important ritual. You should not unwrap your gift right on the spot because it may be regarded as an expression of greed and impatience. Likewise, do not require your business partner to immediately unpack the gift they receive from you. What you should do when choosing a gift is to pay attention to the colour of the packaging. Indonesians will be happy with red, yellow and gold, which symbolise happiness. However, you should avoid white, which is a colour of mourning. A good idea for a gift would be food or alcohol, unless your business partner is a Muslim. It is also wise to exclude products made from pigs, e.g. leather. It should be remembered that giving an expensive gift to a woman may be frowned upon. Therefore, when you are giving a bottle of perfume to an Indonesian woman, you should tell everyone that it is a gift from your wife.
On the other hand, offering such items as penknives, scissors and other cutting tools as a gift will be in a very bad tone. For Indonesians, it denotes breaking the bonds of friendship. If you opt for flowers, you should give them only in an even number, because odd number brings bad luck.