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Cross Cultural Understanding: Indonesians and Expatriates Working Together

One of the biggest challenges of working in a foreign country is learning how to operate in a different cultural setting. Business may be business the whole world over, but the way it is conducted differs widely.

Expats have heard (and told) numerous stories about cultural snafus, missed appointments, differences in management style causing problems at the office, lost orders or down time on production lines due to serious miscommunications, labor problems between foreign management and local staff and many other problems. Many of these problems could have been averted or lessened had the expatriate manager and the local counterparts and colleagues been better prepared for the differences in work patterns that they would encounter.

How do you know how to approach people, how to set appointments, how to determine what various actions mean in a different culture, how to close a deal Indonesian style, how to deal with jam karet (rubber time), and a multitude of other questions?

Fortunately there are “seasoned veterans” who can help you find the answers to these questions. They may be people in your company, people that you meet in a business association, friends you make in social situations or paid consultants.

Just as you go to great lengths to find out what you need to bring with you in your household shipment, it would be wise to spend a significant amount of time, prior to your arrival, learning how Indonesians conduct their business affairs. Every hour you invest in gaining this knowledge will result in significant time savings and lessened frustrations as you learn to prevent or lessen miscommunications and problems before they occur. Don't be hesitant to ask questions of those who have years of experience in Indonesia. Most people are eager to share some advice! However, if you don't ask, you'll never receive their helpful tips.

Your company has invested a lot in you by sending you to Indonesia, not only monetarily, but also with the plan that your presence will benefit the company in many ways. Make the most of that investment, for yourself and your company by learning the cultural norms of Doing Business in Indonesia!

Learn from the cross-cultural experiences of others:

See also: Indonesian Cultural Habits and Idiosyncrasies: Tips for cross-cultural interaction

These articles were generously contributed by George B. Whitfield, III when he was a Technical Advisor with Executive Orientation Services.