Are you being culturally aware or culturally manipulated?

Risk Management

Are you being culturally aware or culturally manipulated?

It is no secret that one of the biggest hurdles to overcome when dealing with a company from a different country is the differences in culture and mannerisms.

Everyday actions that may seem fairly innocent and innocuous in a Western Society can be interpreted as being extremely insulting or derogatory in a different culture. We have all heard people talking about "saving face" as being a major concern within Asian culture and due to the amount of international business conducted with SE Asia anyone who deals with workers and management in the region is particularly sensitive to the possibility of causing their business partner to "lose face"

As is often the problem with trying to compensate for an issue that does not have predominance in our culture, many businesses and representatives in SE Asia tend to take the avoidance to extremes often at the cost of their own dealings and position in the negotiation & operations of the business.

To make matters worse some companies in SE Asia, seeing the advantage, press the point harder so at times the purchaser is sometimes actually apologizing to the manufacturer in Asia for the manufactured product not being to specifications in order to prevent their manufacturer "losing face" due to faulty product being supplied. This is now the point where the purchaser is being culturally manipulated by the supplier and the combination of a lack of understanding of the actual cultural nuances together with a desire not to cause offense means the supplier can basically blame the purchaser for any deficiencies and get away with it.

Cultural differences such as "saving and losing face" need to be managed as a two way street. You need to make the supplier aware that you have put your reputation on the line in actually selecting and choosing to work with the factory.

That failures from them will be translated as a failure in your selection process and ultimately in your due diligence capabilities and will be an enormous loss of face for you. Care enough about them not losing face to be aware of things that you may be doing that will innocently cause insult, BUT, also make it obvious that if they cause you to lose face by doing the above, you will have no issue in repaying them the favour.

Being culturally aware but not allowing yourself to be pushed into a position of submission will ultimately gain the respect of your offshore counterpart and make for a more balanced and productive long-term working environment.


Brian Le Mon

Founder & CEO at Ethical Outsourcing

Despite what most believe and practice, outsourcing is not primarily about cost! It is about finding a service that can offer the most benefit to your business. This may be a service or skillset or it could be the opportunity to free up your time to focus on areas that generate more income for your business. Get in touch for a chat if you want to discuss how outsourcing (done correctly) can help with your business.

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Comments (5)
Ling Lee

Ling Lee at Digital Marketing and Personal Branding

Hi Brian, Thanks for the insightful article! Coming from a multi-cultural background, I have witnessed the often awkward situations between culturally diverse parties. I wanted to ask if you think learning the language of the other party might help in negotiations and/or relationship management?

Chee Chun (Cheech) Foo

Chee Chun (Cheech) Foo, Director at

A recommended book on this topic is the Asian Mind Game by Chin Ning Chu.

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