Indonesia: Let’s Make a Deal! – Part 2


What you should know before negotiating

Punctuality is not closely observed. For example, public or municipal meetings can begin late, often by one hour or more. Since there is little sense of urgency about time, Indonesians dislike being hurried.

The group, rather than the individual, prevails in Indonesian business culture. The individual identity is subsumed into the group. Moreover, Indonesians generally live in concentrations, are used to being crowded, and need relatively little personal space.

The oldest or most competent member usually assumes the leadership position in the group. Superiors are often from chosen families or emanate from the higher ranks in the army. Age, seniority or military rank accords status.

Superiors are expected to be paternalistic, yet they typically seek the consensus of the group.

Whether it is for undue praise or criticism, individuals are uncomfortable being singled out in public.

Since individuals are expected to be a part of a group, it is the group that is addressed. If you have to criticize an employee, do it privately and in a calm, serious manner.

Superiors are treated with tremendous deference and any flaws in their behavior are overlooked. For example, if a superior arrives late, it is disrespectful to show any signs of annoyance. Furthermore, superiors are told what they want to hear–at least in the presence the group. Candid comments or criticism have to be conveyed in private, often by a close friend of the superior. Protecting a superior from hearing bad news in public is one way of conferring honor upon that person.

It can be very difficult for a foreign manager to get accurate reports from Indonesian employees, since the employees are likely to say whatever they think will please their boss. This practice is popularly known as ‘asal bapak senang’ [‘keeping father happy’]. Foreign managers must establish a network through which they can be told the truth in private. For example, Indonesians who have worked or been educated in the West can be valuable contacts for this purpose, since they are more likely to be sympathetic to a manager’s desire to know the truth.

‘Saving face’ is an important concept to understand since, in Indonesian business culture, a person’s reputation and social standing rest on this concept. Keep your cool and refrain from showing that you are upset. By remaining calm at all times, you will be perceived as being able to control your emotions, rather than allowing them to control you. Causing embarrassment or loss of composure, even unintentionally, can seriously harm business negotiations.

You must do everything you can to prevent the occurrence of ‘losing face’, that is, losing control of your emotions or otherwise causing embarrassment. One example of ‘losing face’ is expressing anger in public; anyone who makes such displays is judged as unworthy of respect and trust. In Indonesia, ‘losing face’ is known as ‘malu.’

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