How to do Business in Singapore without Losing Face

As a highly Westernized society, Singaporean business people are typically understanding and unlikely to take much offense to social faux pas committed by a foreign businessperson; it is nevertheless important to keep the following advice in mind when doing business in this country.

The Concept of ‘Face’

The concept and importance of ‘face’ within the Singaporean culture can be hard for foreigners to understand, since the concept is based on a relationship with others in the community that is not as prevalent in Western society. In East Asia, where principles of Confucianism are highly valued, emphasis is placed on harmonious interaction with others in society. Because of this, people see themselves as seamlessly integrated with their friends, family, co-workers, classmates, etc. If someone does something that causes them to look inferior to their peers, it will result in dishonor, or a ‘loss of face’. Likewise, an individual can ‘gain face’ by bringing honor to their family for example, through acceptance into a prestigious university or place of business. The concept of ‘face’ is a big deal in Singapore and a crucial factor when landing business deals.

The Subtlety of Body Language

Another thing to watch for while doing business in Singapore is body language and tone of voice. As part of a high-context culture, Singaporeans tend to be subtle and implicit in what they are actually trying to communicate. For example, they will rarely ever say the word “no” directly. Rather, they would say “I will think about it,” or, “We’ll see,” which allows them to turn people down while still saving face.

The Importance of Respect

Always show respect to others when doing business in Singapore, especially to those who are your senior. In business meetings, be sure to greet the eldest person in the meeting first. Never lose your temper or show strong emotions, as this will cause you and your company to lose face in the eyes of others and make further business difficult.

Although Singaporean business people are typically understanding of foreign business people, it is nevertheless important to be courteous and respect the culture of your business counterpart.

To learn more about doing business in Singapore, join GVSU’s Van Andel Global Trade Center for a Culture Briefing on Indonesia, Malaysia & Singapore on July 23, 2015 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.


Aaron Salata is a third-year student at Grand Valley State University majoring in Geography, with an emphasis in International Development and a minor of International Business in German. His long-term careers goals are to one day work to improve the well-being of people around the world. In his free time, he enjoys traveling and experiencing different cultures, and eating Chinese food.


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