Myanmar Culture of Business

By | July 24, 2022

Subchapters:

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

Introduction

The first contact with Myanmar traders is usually in person (eg meeting at a trade fair) or by phone. It is definitely not recommended to contact the company by email for the first time. Many, especially senior workers and businessmen, do not regularly check their email inbox at all. Only during this spoken communication (in person or over the phone) is the method of sending written documents agreed (usually the email address of the secretary of the merchant in question). The commercial and economic section of the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Rangoon and the PROPEA program implementer in the territory can also help with contacting specific companies (see chapter 6.1). For these purposes, it is advisable to have a company profile ready (e.g. brochure or flyer in.pdf format). It is usually not enough to just send a link to the website, as directors of larger companies in particular usually have their secretaries print out the company presentation.

  • Programingplease: Yearbook 2010 of nation Myanmar, including population, politics, and abbreviations.

Addressing

When it comes to directly addressing a Myanmar partner in personal contact, there are a few simple rules. Burmese people usually do not have surnames (some minority ethnicities do), all their names are personal (“given names”), and it is customary to address partners by all names. The name is preceded by a polite address, most often U (Mr.) and Daw (Mrs.). If the partner holds a doctoral degree, he can also be addressed as Doctor (+ full name; in written communication the abbreviation Dr before the name). Other academic titles are not used in the address. Burmese courtesies are also commonly used by traders of Chinese and Indian origin. Members of some minority nationalities may use addresses based on their own languages ​​before their name.

Some traders use an international (usually English) name or nickname to communicate with foreigners. If this is how they introduce themselves at the beginning of the meeting, it is also possible to call them by this nickname.

Business meeting

Arrangement and progress of the meeting

When arranging a meeting, it is expected to send a company profile and often also a formal letter on letterhead requesting a meeting (the company also archives this, e.g. for the needs of possible official checks, usually a scan of the signed letter by email is sufficient). Based on this information, the local company will suggest a date and place for the meeting. If the company does not respond for several days, it is possible to remind yourself, preferably by phone.

The meeting most often takes place at the company headquarters, usually in meeting rooms. It is common for a business partner to be ushered into these spaces and may even wait a few minutes for the representative of the Myanmar company to arrive. It is not considered impolite in the local context. If food is included in the meeting, the meeting is usually at a restaurant.

It’s a good idea to have business cards with you. As elsewhere in Asia, these are given and received with both hands. After receiving a business card, it is polite to look at it for at least a few seconds, not to open it right away. A small gift (e.g. a company pen, etc.) is not a necessity, but is positively received.

Timing of negotiations

Meetings most often take place between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., partners from the public sector, state-owned enterprises and banks usually schedule the last meeting of the day at 3 p.m.

Cultural specifics in negotiations

Many Myanmar businessmen are involved in more than one line of business and own multiple companies. It may happen during the meeting that the conversation turns to a different matter than the one for which the meeting was originally arranged. It is therefore good to be flexible when negotiating and to have at least a general overview of the entire range of your company’s offer, not just one specific product.

Burmese traders can seem indecisive. The reason is that they are always primarily looking for long-term partnerships and want to be sure that they can trust the other party. At the same time, they are very calm and usually do not lose their temper even in the face of significant complications or delays.

Many services and products common in other countries are being introduced in the country for the very first time. It happens because the traders themselves are just starting out with the given business and have only partial technical and operational knowledge. Therefore, especially in the case of deliveries of production units, it is not always possible to expect a completely accurate idea of ​​all the technical parameters of the requested equipment. Some key data for the supplier may emerge only from the meeting itself.

A distinctive feature of dealing with Burmese traders, partly based on Buddhist ethics, is a strikingly non-confrontational style of communication. It is necessary to avoid any direct criticism and verbal aggression (not even in jest, and not even towards third parties, e.g. competitors). If there is a Buddhist altar or Buddha statue in the room, it is appropriate to show respect to this object by bowing slightly when entering the room.

Myanmar traders and their negotiation style

Due to the difficult enforcement of the law, local traders prefer long-term proven relationships based on mutual trust, and this trust must be gradually built. Negotiations are therefore sometimes quite long and a large part of the time is devoted to getting to know both partners. This applies especially in smaller cities or in the case of small and medium-sized enterprises.

Burmese people tend to act calm and affable, but they don’t show much of their true emotions. The same goes for most other ethnicities. More open and emotional negotiations can be expected with partners from nationalities that are predominantly Christian (Chin, Kachin, Karen) and businessmen from the local Indian community.

Ethnic and regional differences in trade negotiations

Territorial differences in the style of business dealings are not significant, certain differences can be observed rather depending on the nationality of the business partner (135 ethnic groups with their own languages ​​and cultures live in Myanmar), or whether they come from big cities (Rangoon, Mandalay) or smaller ones seat. Businessmen from larger cities conduct negotiations a little faster and more professionally, partners from smaller cities and rural areas need more time for negotiations, conduct them more personally, and devote a large part of the conversation to getting to know the business partner.

Alcohol during business meetings

It is not common to offer alcohol at meetings in the office and, in principle, not even at a working lunch. It can sometimes be served in small quantities at a work dinner.

Appropriate clothing

A regular suit or costume, or a business casual style, is recommended (especially if the meeting also includes a tour of the warehouse or production premises). Most Burmese businessmen and traders dress in Western fashion when dealing with foreigners. However, it is quite common for someone to come dressed in traditional clothing and put on very simple shoes. Visit Animalerts for more information about Burma culture and traditions.

The ideal negotiation team

It is possible – especially for small and medium-sized enterprises – to come to the meeting completely alone, most often two to three people participate in the meeting (manager + assistant or technical expert who has a more detailed knowledge of the product). If the meeting is conducted by a group/concern and affects several subsidiaries or several divisions of one company, a representative of each affected company/division may participate in the meeting. The age and gender composition of the team does not play a major role.

An invitation home from a business partner

It is not usual for a Myanmar businessman to invite a partner directly to his home. If this happens, it is advisable to take a small gift and be prepared to take off your clothes before entering the home. During your own visit, it is recommended to avoid open criticism or astonishment at the different living standards and not to enter other parts of the dwelling without invitation than where the guest was shown.

Communication

Language skills

Although Myanmar is a former British colony, the level of English here has declined considerably during the period of military dictatorship and the country’s almost complete isolation, and is only gradually returning to its former high level, at least in the larger cities. In general, written communication is at a higher level than spoken English. The youngest generation of businessmen and managers often have studied abroad and it is not a problem to come to an agreement with them. The language barrier is particularly noticeable among the middle and older generation (which are often directors of large companies). Especially in smaller towns and in more remote areas, it can be difficult to even find someone who speaks English. In such a case, it is definitely recommended to take an interpreter – a guide with you.

The most common language in the country is Burmese, and with the exception of truly isolated areas (or localities controlled by insurgents for a long time), Burmese is also spoken by the vast majority of members of national minorities. The Chinese community mainly communicates in southern Chinese dialects (most ethnic Chinese are from Yunnan province), but they often speak Mandarin as well. The main language of the Indian minority here is Hindi/Urdu, a smaller part speaks Bengali and Tamil.

The role of the interpreter

It is a huge advantage if someone on the team speaks Burmese. The language skills, especially of the middle and older generations of entrepreneurs, have their limits, and especially for a more detailed description of the technical parameters of the products, it is very useful if someone from the team can explain specific information in Burmese in case of misunderstanding. For meetings outside the big cities, hiring an interpreter/guide is highly recommended. Sometimes it happens during negotiations that the Burmese side has its own interpreter. The reason may be not only the language barrier, but also the possibility of getting more time to think about the answer during the time when the interpretation is being done.

Communication taboo

Religion is a very sensitive issue in Myanmar. Open criticism of Buddhism and its spiritual representatives, even if based on factually true arguments, is unthinkable and, under certain circumstances, even criminal. Still-ongoing ethnic conflicts and political issues in general are also sensitive topics that should be avoided (unless the local partner himself initiates the conversation in this direction).

Myanmar society is also more conservative and it is recommended to avoid innuendos, jokes or double entenders with erotic undertones.

Forms and means of communication

Personal contact is usually necessary for closing deals. If the company itself does not plan to visit the country, it is recommended to find a local partner (distributor, consulting company) who will do this work. The commercial and economic section of the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Rangoon and the PROPEA program implementer in the territory can also help with this step (see chapter 6.1).

In the case of operative communication, the use of voice services is preferred (telephone, calls via Viber, WhatsApp, etc.). Email is used almost exclusively for sending documents and attachments, usually on the basis of prior agreement through another communication channel. It is also possible to communicate using text messages via Viber, WhatsApp, Messenger, etc.

When it comes to email, even managers or owners of large companies still often use addresses from public providers (especially gmail.com). Using a gmail address (i.e. not a corporate one) is definitely not considered a sign of untrustworthiness of the given company or person.

Recommendation

The successful fulfillment of business goals in the Myanmar market will always be helped by respecting a few simple principles:

  • A personal relationship with a partner is the key to business success. It is possible, at least to a certain extent, to build a personal relationship even at a distance, but the interpersonal dimension of a business relationship must be perceived and developed consistently.
  • Courtesy at all times. It is absolutely necessary to express respect, smile, not complain and especially not express criticism directly and not act confrontationally.
  • Prepare the project presentation well. In the case of more complex technical solutions, graphic representation is a good way to overcome the language barrier.
  • Arm yourself with patience. Both during negotiations and during the implementation of the project, expect delays and under no circumstances lose your temper. Those who lose their temper lose face in the eyes of their partner.
  • Always look for a win-win solution. It is good to act cooperatively, to show interest in the benefit of the partner and in no case to strive for obvious superiority or advantage over him.
  • A good price is decisive. It is always easiest to offer a favorable price, however, even for more expensive projects, you can at least make clear all the advantages and savings that your solution has compared to others (perhaps even with a lower purchase price). Not all local partners have detailed operational knowledge and some benefits and savings that are obvious to you may not be as obvious to them if they are not properly explained.

Public Holidays

Most religious holidays that are non-working days have a floating date. The main holiday is the Burmese New Year (Thingyan) in the month of April (in 2022 and 2023 it falls on 13-16 April). In the last three years (2020–2022), public celebrations of Thingyan and most other holidays have been limited or completely canceled, first due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and from 2021 also due to the deteriorating security situation and the reluctance of a large part of the population to participate in organized celebrations military regime.

In addition, the following public holidays are celebrated in Myanmar:

  • New Year (January 1)
  • Independence Day (January 4)
  • Union Day (February 12)
  • Peasants’ Day (March 2)
  • Army Day (March 27)
  • International Labor Day (May 1)
  • Heroes’ Day (July 19)
  • National Day (December 9)
  • Christmas holiday (December 25)

Myanmar Culture of Business