Networking and connections are vital for success.

As in much of the world, Indonesians prefer doing business with friends. One key to success in Indonesia is to allow plenty of time for building relationships. In many cases, you’ll need to get to know someone before you can conduct business with that company. An important part of networking is referrals. Third-party introductions help establish trust and credibility. Local partners are a good source of introductions. Thus, when choosing partners, select people with a proven network of contacts. To develop a relationship, it’s essential to demonstrate sincere interest in your counterpart.

Be patient and allow time for growing business relationships.

Patience is essential. Indonesians often view westerners as hurried, and overly focused on the concept “time is money.” Thus, it’s important to always be relaxed, and be generous with your time for your local associates. If you’re visiting from overseas, it’s vital to make frequent visits to build rapport.

Good activities for building rapport include casual conversation, dining and golf.

Meetings usually start with social conversation. Initial meetings may involve little talk about business. Good topics of conversation include: family, especially children; food; golf; travel; mutual acquaintances; and Indonesian sights and culture. Indonesians feel their country is excessively criticized by the international media. Thus, they especially appreciate favorable comments about Indonesia.

There are also topics to avoid. These include:

  • Human rights
  • Politics
  • Racial Issues
  • Religion
  • Bureaucracy
  • Adult Humor
  • And marital status, if divorced

Indonesians sometimes ask personal questions. They might ask your age, salary or related topics to size you up. If uncomfortable, respond vaguely and move politely to another topic. It’s important to take an active role in building connections, which can be built through a number of activities. Another great relationship builder is dining. Dinner is particularly appropriate; because they are longer than lunches, they allow for plenty of relationship building.

Be aware of cultural sensitivities in dining and gift giving.

When served a beverage or meal, it’s polite to wait until you’re invited to begin. Use only your right hand, as the left is reserved for personal hygiene. Although westernized Indonesians eat with utensils, traditional Muslims eat with their hands. Indonesians might converse little when dining, as they are concentrating on their food. Note that many Muslims avoid pork and alcohol. The visitor should avoid tap water, ice and uncooked foods.

It’s polite to leave a little food on your plate. Otherwise, your host will order more. Invitations should always be reciprocated at a later date. A promising sign is being invited into someone’s home. When visiting a home, you might need to remove your shoes before entering. Bring a gift such as chocolates or flowers. Not that Indonesians might wait until after the giver has left before opening a present. When choosing a gift, avoid alcohol, pork, handkerchiefs or anything related to dogs, which are seen as unclean. With the Chinese, give gifts in even numbers, except the number four. Also avoid unlucky items, such as clocks, knives and white flowers. In any event, confirm the appropriateness of a gift with another person of that culture.

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