Malaysia Culture of Business

By | July 24, 2022

Subchapters:

  • Introduction
  • Addressing
  • Business Meeting
  • Communication
  • Recommendations
  • Public Holidays

Introduction

Knowledge of the basic rules of generally acceptable behavior and customs in business dealings is absolutely crucial in multicultural Malaysia. It is necessary to remember that there are three culturally very different ethnicities living in Malaysia – the majority are Malay (approx. 60%), Chinese (23%) and Indian (7%) – and it is highly desirable to find out information about the ethnicity of the Malaysian business partner in advance and adjust your behavior and expectations accordingly. At the same time, however, it must be respected that all Malaysians, regardless of their ethnic origin, feel that they are MALAYSIAN, not Malay, Chinese or Indian, and one must be able to distinguish well between Malay and Malaysian.

Addressing

For initial contact, it is ideal to go to the territory in person – for example, as part of a visit to a fair, exhibition or conference. The method of approaching Malaysian companies “remotely”, e.g. by e-mail or telephone, does not work very well. A personal recommendation, on the other hand, opens doors surprisingly easily, and the recommendation or mediation of the initial contact by the embassy also plays a key role towards the Malaysian authorities. Regarding the specific address during the first contact, in general, when addressing, we state Mr./Ms. and first name (if we are not sure, it is appropriate to read the full name – 3 ethnicities mean 3 different order of names on business cards). In Malaysia, however, there are also a number of earned titles (state honors) – Dato, Datuk, Sri, Tan Sri, Tun, but also YB (honorable). These should always be mentioned, even in combination with just the first name, eg Datuk Patrick.

Business meeting

Before the very first meeting, it is essential that the partner has sufficient information about the Czech company and the business plan being discussed. This information must be sent in writing and well in advance of the proposed date of the meeting. Only after a previous written introduction is it advisable to request a meeting, preferably again in writing (with information about the meeting participants, this increases the credibility of the Czech entity), then by telephone. It is ideal if a third party that the partner trusts can recommend the Czech company to the partner. It is advisable to have a small gift for the meeting/meeting and, of course, a sufficient number of representative profiles of the company and the offered production. Quality printed materials are a must in Malaysia and sometimes the opposite is an unnecessary reason to create a bad impression or even mistrust. Malaysia will suffer from first-class marketing.

Muslim-majority Malaysia observes a Monday-Friday working week (except for the states of Kelantan and Terengganu, which have Friday and Saturday days off). The first meetings usually don’t start until 9:30 a.m., then most often at 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon. On Friday, you should expect a freer afternoon after the main midday prayer. The Chinese and Indians are much more flexible in the timing of meetings, it is common to work until late hours, a meeting at 5 pm is no exception. Punctuality is generally observed, however delays due to the traffic situation in larger cities are tolerated and changes in the program for reasonable reasons tend to be accepted more or less understandingly.

Certain aspects of social etiquette are highly emphasized in Malaysia. These include introductions and exchanging business cards. It is advisable to give a business card to important people with both hands, in any case it is necessary to give and receive the business card from hand to hand. In the case of large delegations, the exchange of business cards may initially take place only among the most senior members, others may exchange business cards after the end of the meeting. When shaking hands, one must distinguish whether it is a Muslim or not. It is a rule that the Malay population is predominantly Muslim. In general, therefore, a business partner/man should avoid shaking hands with a Muslim woman, in which case she must reject it. A woman can shake hands with a woman and it is common. A business partner/woman, on the other hand, should remain restrained when shaking hands with a Muslim man. But if the woman does it, a Muslim man sometimes returns the handshake understandingly, sometimes not and only puts his hand over his heart. A man is very happy to shake hands with a man. But a slight bow of the head never hurts. The rules we apply apply to the Chinese and Indians.

Malaysian partners surprise with great professionalism and over time business negotiations are worked efficiently. Malaysian partners tend to be well prepared and ask a lot of questions. Thus, after a light conversational introduction, which is a necessity, the discussions very quickly get into greater details in a constructive and structured debate. The first laps led throughout the entire time in a more general plane are rather an exception. Unlike neighboring ASEAN countries, you often find out what they really think during the negotiations.

But it is important to distinguish who you have on the other side: in general, Malaysian Chinese are much friendlier and more open than in China itself. They are smiling when speaking, but their body language is rather flat. On the other hand, Indians are very eloquent, their facial expressions and gestures are intense. Certain differences can also be observed in dealing with the inhabitants of the Malaysian states on the W coast and on the E coast of Peninsular Malaysia. The eastern states of Kelantan and Terengganu are very orthodox and more or less follow the rules for doing business in Arab states. The rest of the states on the peninsula are much more ethnically diverse, and the aforementioned ethnic rather than territorial differences apply there. The situation in Borneo in the states of Sarawak and Sabah is even different. There, the ethnic diversity is even more evident and there is a general opinion that

It is not suitable, or customary to offer alcohol during business meetings. Care must be taken to see if a representative of the Muslim Malays is not present. Compared to other Muslim countries, they are very tolerant of alcohol at the table in everyday life, but it is rather inappropriate for a business person. When it comes to dress code, Malaysia – again due to its ethnic and religious diversity – is surprisingly very tolerant. Although in a tropical country, the ubiquitous air conditioning forces us to wear the classic formal attire that we are used to in our latitudes, with the fact that if you put it down during the meeting, it is not considered a social offense. Strict veiling is not required for women.

The number of members of the negotiating team depends primarily on the size of the Czech company. Ideally, it should consist of a sales director and at least one technical employee who is able to provide detailed information on the technical details of the product being offered. The age and gender composition of the team does not play a major role. In Malaysia, it is not customary to invite business partners directly to your home, however, mainly the Indian, but also the Chinese part of the population is famous for its excessive hospitality, even in the case when they have not yet gotten to know their partners very well, outside the home.

Communication

Malaysia is a former British colony and the level of English is still mostly very high, both written and spoken. Everyone in the companies (except for the lowest positions, where the level of AJ is weaker) speaks fluent English, and English is also the official common language used for communication at the level of the state administration and between the administration and the private sector. It is also the main negotiating language in business relations in general. Both Chinese and Indian populations speak English as their second mother tongue. The majority of Malaysians do not communicate in this language in their families, however, in the work environment, everyone knows it without major problems, an interpreter is not needed. Visit Animalerts for more information about Malaysia culture and traditions.

Chinese partners will greatly appreciate communication in Chinese (mainly Mandarin, Cantonese and Hokkien are used). Also in the case of Malays, there is no harm in learning at least basic phrases in the Malay language (bahasa melayu). The Indian community mostly communicates with each other in Tamil. All three main ethnicities are very friendly and share pride in their local cuisine. It is therefore a guaranteed ice breaker at any time and with anyone. Communication faux pas are forgivable, but if you’re sitting across from a Malaysian Muslim, it’s better to avoid conversations about pork and alcohol, and to avoid, for example, ambiguous jokes and joking about religious topics. There are also not the usual displays of intimate behavior (patting on the back, hugging, kissing, etc.).

It is also common practice for Malaysia to monitor mutual communications and take steps to restore them if necessary. After the usual email response time has passed, it can be effective to remind the communication by phone. Mobile communication applications (most often Whatsapp, for the Chinese community also WeChat) also show high efficiency in this regard.

Recommendation

Penetration into the Malaysian market requires a considerable amount of patience and a willingness to adapt to the local mentality during the establishment of new business contacts and during the negotiations themselves. The basis of success is personal dealings and frequent presence in the territory. We definitely recommend hiring a local representative or establishing a representative office or branch in the territory. Ignorance of local market conditions also lends itself to fraud, but this is almost exclusively due to insufficiently vetted contacts from international business portals, which ultimately may not be from Malaysia at all. Increased vigilance is recommended in ensuring compliance with the terms of the agreements.

Another important principle is not to underestimate Malaysian partners! Often, an influential and mobile businessman with a family tradition of several hundred years or a graduate of the world’s most prestigious universities can stand against you. It is always necessary to find out about the partner’s ethnic origin and to respect specific cultural and religious customs accordingly. At the same time, it is important to prepare for great efficiency, but it comes at a later stage than is usual for us. However, you must not lose your temper and do not try to impose your timing on them. It is always good to be prepared in detail from the first meeting and to be specific in your argument. Establishing a pleasant conversation with your partner is the basis, Malaysians are very smiling and friendly and you need to be able to reciprocate.

Public Holidays

Malaysia has a large number of national holidays as it respects all major holidays of all major religions. In addition, holidays are also declared at the level of the individual states of the federation, these are often variable, and it is therefore necessary to carefully check whether any of them will affect you before traveling to the territory.

The entire population observes official Muslim national holidays – Ramadan (with Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Hari Raya Haji), Awal Muharram, Prophet Muhammad’s birth, Chinese/Buddhist Chinese New Year, Wesak Day, Hindu Thaipusam, Deepavali/Diwali and Christian Christmas. Also New Year, Labor Day, Official King’s Birthday (Agong’s Birthday), Independence Day (Merdeka Day) or Malaysia Day. Easter is also celebrated in Borneo.

Malaysia Culture of Business