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Comparing Cultures in Business: America and Malaysia

Would opening an American company in Malaysia create any cultural barriers? Would you hire an executive manger that is Malay, Chinese or Indian? Why?

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RESPONSE:

1. Would opening an American company in Malaysia create any cultural barriers? Would you hire an executive manager that is Malay, Chinese or Indian? Why?

There are definitely potential cultural barriers between America and Malaysia. For the second part of the question, it depends - as far as hiring an executive manager that is Malay, Chinese or Indian. If all the workers were also Malay, Chinese or Indian, it would avoid the cultural barriers within the company, but still could make it difficult to communicate with the person. However, if the workers were American, except for the executive manager, the cultural differences might create trouble in communicating, confrontation, relationship style, proximity, etc. We come back to this after we look at the cultural differences between Malaysia and United States companies.

As a case in point, after having agreed on all the financial, legal and technical issues, the regional manager of Trans-Oceanic, Mr. Ted Goodfellow, went to Riyadh to wrap up the final details and to sign the contract with Arabco. During the meeting with the top Arabco executives Goodfellow said casually, "We, at Trans-Oceanic, are really looking forward to working with you here in the Persian Gulf!" At that there was a moment of shocked silence on the Arabco side of the conference table. Then the three senior executives arose and strode angrily out of the room, breaking off negotiations. Bewildered Goodfellow looked at the two junior Saudis who had remained behind. "What happened here?" he asked the young Arabs across the table. "Did I say something wrong?" After some hesitation one of the Arabco employees explained that in Saudi Arabia, the body of water in question is called Arabian Gulf. By misnaming it Goodfellow had unintentionally implied that the gulf belonged to Iran - a country that Saudi Arabia at that time considered hostile and threatening.

Such misunderstandings are rampant when companies do business globally. And to iron out such creases in the fabric of relationships it is essential for the executives to be alert to the cross-cultural differences that can wreck even the most promising business deals.

Culture differs across the globe along with the shift of latitudes and longitudes, along with the variations of the hair colour and changes of the bone structures. Thus, in Singapore, if the lift operator asks you at 7.30 AM, "Have you had your lunch", politely answer "Yes, thank you. Have you had yours?" To site an example of such a cultural variation, if you go to Russia, do not feel uncomfortable if a fellow Russian enfolds you in a great bear hug and kisses you on your lips. While thumbs-up sign is slowly emerging as a universal sign for "great", to many Europeans and in the Middle East, it is an obscene sign. Talking loudly, using hand gestures and facial expressions, which comes quite normally to many, can easily make the Thai women feel that you are furious or insane. Thus, behavior that is proper and familiar in one culture may be rude, offensive and strange at the other. And these contrasting values may cause conflict at the conference table. To avoid such blunders, it is absolutely essential for the international business travelers to go through the travails of learning the cultural basics of the country with which they are expected to interact. Some of the aspects of the varied patterns and hues of cross-cultural behaviors have been described hereunder.

As we will see from the information below (excerpt), Malaysia and United States are in a sense, cultural opposites.

The "Great Divide" between cultures

The differences between the deal-focused (DF) people (i.e., Americans) who are fundamentally task-oriented and relationship-focused (RF) folks (i.e., Malaysian), who are more people-oriented is considered to be the "Great Divide" between business cultures. Conflicts are common when DF export marketers make an effort to do business with the RF markets. While the RF people find the DF types aggressive, authoritative and offensively blunt, the latter find the former dilatory, vague and inscrutable.

Obviously, then, Americans (DF) and Malays (RF) are cultural opposites, from the business perspective.

United States: Attributes of those for whom deal comes first:

* Common in only a small part of the world. Strongly DF cultures are found in Northern Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand, where people are relatively open to doing business with strangers (See Box 1).
* Relatively open to dealing with strangers; export marketers can normally make direct contacts with potential buyers without any previous relationship or connection.
* Talk business right from the start and get to know each other as things proceed; build rapport right at the bargaining table.
* Business negotiations last for a shorter while.
* Much communication and problem solving is handled via telephone, fax and e-mail rather than in face-to-face meetings.
* Rely more on written agreements to prevent misunderstandings and solve problems. For instance, many US companies bring a lengthy draft contract and a lawyer to the negotiating table.

Malaysia: Potential Barriers and things to Consider

Attributes of those for whom relationship comes first, including Malaysia:
* Prefer to deal with family, friends and groups who are beyond suspicion.
* Get things done through intricate networks of personal contacts and are uncomfortable about doing business with strangers. The vast majority of world's markets are relationship-oriented: the Arab world and most of Africa, Latin America and Asia-Pacific region (See Box 1 IN ATTACHED RESPONSE).

* Proper way to approach someone who does not yet know you is to arrange ...

Solution Summary

When an American company in opening in Malaysia, this solution explains in detail the major cultural barriers to address through excellent examples and charts of cultural differences. It also explains whether or not the executive manager should be hired from a specific cultural background e.g. Malayasian, Chinese or Indian, and why.

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