To be effective with Indonesians, you must understand what’s important to them. This can be challenging in this diverse nation.

Harmony and maintaining face are cherished in this society.

As in most of Asia, harmony is cherished and conflict avoided. There is a strong emphasis on “getting along.” In the workplace, efficiency is often sacrificed for the sake of peacefulness. Indonesians often prefer superficial harmony, and will avoid honest communication rather than risk conflict. A related concept is face, or pride and position in society.

Indonesians are eager to avoid losing or causing loss of face. For example, they might allow others to make mistakes rather than cause embarrassment by correcting them. Loss of face can be caused by anger or excessive emotion. It’s essential to always speak in quiet tones and maintain an even disposition. Indeed, losing one’s temper could cause irreparable damage to a relationship, and end a business deal.

The interests of the group and family come before those of the individual.

As elsewhere in Asia, family is supreme. In this society the needs of the family or the group come before those of the individual. This is also true in the workplace, where there is a strong emphasis on fitting in and group harmony. Subsequently, individuals are rarely singled out for praise or criticism. Furthermore, Indonesians prefer to work in groups.

Businesswomen might encounter cultural challenges, especially at lower levels.

Compared with other Muslim nations, women are relatively advanced in Indonesia. They play a growing role in the economy, comprising about 40% of the work force. Nonetheless, few positions of power are held by women. Visiting businesswomen may find additional challenges. For example, they might need to work harder to gain respect, particularly with less educated males.

Be sensitive to Muslim needs, schedules and beliefs.

Another pillar of beliefs is the Islamic religion. Indonesia’s form of Islam is mild, with the government unwilling to tolerate the extreme fundamentalism that has disrupted the Middle East. Nonetheless, the religion is sacred and it’s important to be sensitive to considerations ranging from diet to schedules. For example, strict Muslims pray five times a day. As a result, most offices or factories have a prayer room. Business might slow during Ramadan, a month-long religious observance during which Muslims abstain from food or beverages from sunrise to sunset. When possible, it’s best to avoid visiting during Ramadan. The period occurs at a different time each year, so check with local associates.

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