Indonesia: Let’s Make a Deal! – Part 3


What you should know before negotiating

It’s essential that you speak in quiet, gentle tones and always remain calm and in control of your emotions.

Speaking is best conducted in a quiet voice and without displaying too much emotion. Confrontation is avoided and problems or areas of difference are alluded to in an indirect manner. Again, Indonesians have a tendency to tell foreigners what they think will please them or what they wish to hear.

You may find that the Indonesian participants will say very little during a meeting. This reticence, however, should not be interpreted negatively. Often, participants will remain aloof until they convene with their group to gather consensus. Also, Indonesians tend to be soft-spoken, and you should make the effort to do the same.

During a meeting or presentation, you will have to take the initiative to discern if your audience understands you. Since ‘saving face’ is so important in this culture, people will not admit in front of others that they are having difficulties. Also, the general level of English is quite low.

Indonesians may allow a person to proceed incorrectly rather than correct him or her and cause embarrassment for that person. In effect, an Indonesian can ‘honor’ someone’s authority while allowing him or her to make an error that could prove to be disastrous.

Indonesians tend to be shrewd negotiators, intent on obtaining the best deal possible. You will earn their respect if you maintain a positive, persistent attitude.

It is normal to ‘haggle’ over a business deal. Indonesians routinely bargain for most purchases and exchanges in their daily lives, and can be very astute negotiators. So, be aware that even people who seem very reserved should not be underestimated as businesspeople.

Deferential listening and quiet speaking are aimed at maintaining harmony. Nevertheless, hard bargainers are respected. There are, in reality, no fixed prices and starting positions may appear far too unreasonable.

Before answering a question, Indonesian business protocol demands that the respondent make a respectful pause–lasting as long as 10 to 15 seconds. Westerners will sometimes mistakenly assume that they have an agreement and resume talking before an Indonesian has a chance to give a genuine response.

You may be asked extremely personal questions regarding your salary, education, family life or, conversely, why you are unmarried and childless. If you don’t want to answer, remain polite but try to gracefully side step the question. In most cases, people ask these questions to determine your status–which means everything in Indonesian business culture.

To successfully hold a conversation, it’s essential for Indonesians to know if they are speaking with a person who is their superior, inferior or equal. Generally, they will feel uncomfortable until they learn your status–hence the tendency to ask very personal questions.

As a face-saving measure, Indonesians will often say ‘yes’ when they don’t actually mean it. For example, a ‘yes’ may be used to disguise a lukewarm response such as ‘I’ll think about it’ or an outright ‘no.’ You will have to be alert to subtleties in conversation to help discern the sincerity of the response.

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