corporate relocation australia

Doing business with Asia – cultural competency for the Asian market

Recent research has shown that Australia’s top executives are falling short when it comes to the intercultural skills required when working with Asian markets. As a leader in intercultural training, ICC has worked with some of Australia’s biggest companies, delivering thousands of coaching sessions, workshops and briefings aimed at developing intercultural competency. 

While Asia is a diverse region layered with cultural nuance, there are some common threads that connect most Asian cultures. For those who don’t know where to start, we have put together a few general points to help you to increase your intercultural capability when working with Asia.

Understanding communication

In Asia, a lot of communication relies on understanding what is not said. Most Asian cultures such as China and Japan are ‘high-context’ or indirect cultures. This means that communication involves so much more than the words being used, but relies on body language, tone, timing and even silences. 

As Australians working with Asia, we need to learn how to be more effective listeners, in order to understand the message beyond its verbal content. There is a Japanese expression that encapsulates this: reading the air. It involves taking in all the non-verbal and implicit communication cues when decoding your counterpart’s message. The Japanese say that if you can’t read the air, you’re not a very good listener. 

Tip: learn how to be more comfortable with silence. Silences can be used to show respect, formulate thoughts or used strategically in negotiations.

The importance of relationships

Australia is an individualistic culture that prioritizes the task over the relationship. While Australians may enjoy getting to know their international colleagues, relationships are not always essential to getting the job done. In many Asian cultures, the reverse is true: relationships are fundamental to achieving the desired outcomes.

In the Philippines, relationships may be the only way to initiate business and work will often flow when both parties have demonstrated genuine effort in building rapport and developing a positive working environment. It is worth your time to find out what successful relationship-building looks like in the specific context of your business.

Tip: Spend more time that you normally would developing relationships with Asian clients or contacts. This will not be time lost.

Working with hierarchy

Australian society and more specifically its business structures are much less hierarchical than in other parts of the world. Hierarchy plays an important role in most Asian cultures, such as Indonesia or the Philippines, both within the business world and in society more broadly. In the workplace, hierarchy impacts how work is delegated, how conflict is managed and how ideas are expressed (or not). 

While many of our cross-cultural interactions today take place with multinational companies, it is important to acknowledge that its employees are not always Western in their values and practices. For those raised within most Asian cultures, workplace hierarchy is the norm and respect for it is essential.

Tip: Use the chain of command to your advantage. When faced with performance issues with a counterpart or supplier, approach their supervisor rather than managing the situation yourself.

International Consultants Centre run intercultural programs for individuals, families and teams to support them to work successfully across cultures. Programs include access to online e-learning tools such as CultureConnector and focus on building participants’ country knowledge and cultural intelligence as well as providing strategies to work effectively across cultures.

If you or your clients want to learn more about cultural intelligence in the workplace, contact us at

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