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Intercultural Tips for Working in Indonesia

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Taboo for one culture may be considered not taboo in other culture. Something acceptable in your culture may be considered taboo for Indonesians. To understand what is taboo or not taboo for Indonesians, you shall read "Do's and Don'ts" below.

Do

Introduce yourself with handshaking and smile. Indonesians are a polite people and very tolerant towards foreigners and their manners. Handshaking (salaman) is customary for men and women alike on introduction and greeting, accompanied with the usual smile. Indonesians like to establish relationships. The greeting process is very important. Well begun is half done. Always shake hands with your business partner. Be humble in your negotiations and give your business partner the highest respect.

Greet and smile at everybody notwithstanding their level position. Smile indicates friendliness. Arrogant people will not reply their smile/ greeting with smile. They will think people, who do not reply their smile, are not easy to talk with. Smiling at them can make them comfortable.

Win the informal leader's heart. In the company, there are formal leader such as managers and supervisors. However, among the staff or operators, there is person that is respected and always listened by the others although this person does not have high job level position. This kind of person has strength in social/ interpersonal relation. To approach and make good relationship with this person can help you to win his/ her group. Politely, build his/her character and he/ she will act as a channel to your employees and give you information about employee's conditions and their response.

Ask a simple question and call their name. Asking simple question can make them feel that you care about them. Indonesians prefer personal closing. If you ask simple question and call their name, you have done the ice breaking. They will feel secure and think that you are friendly.

Be a good model of discipline and give them real example. Indonesians tend to duplicate the behaviour of the people they respect. If you are their superior, they will imitate your behaviour because you are their model. This feature can be used to build their attitude toward discipline. If you are their superior and they see you put the rubbish to the dustbin or clean the dirty cup, they will follow your action. They will follow you because you are their model. When they see you participating in maintaining cleanliness, they will understand your action and they will act together to realize the cleanliness.

Build family atmosphere. Indonesians view family as intimate integral relationship, in which its members support each other and feel comfortable and secure. When Indonesians feel as a part of family, they will feel secure and motivated to increase their performance. In good family, there is harmonious interdependent relationship. There is sense of belonging and sense of ownership in its members' attitude. For example, to print name card for your employees, even if for those who in low level, can make them feel as your big family members. They will be proud because their names are mentioned in their company's name cards. Indirectly, it is also a promotion of your company because proudly they will show their name cards to their friends. Create the events to build their solidarity as one family, such as outbound and company travelling. Make personal contact rather than writing letters or memos. Don't consider time spent to develop personal relationships wasted.

Provide a channel for their ideas/ grievances. Their idea/ grievance is an expression of their morale in the company. If no grievance, it does not mean that it is good conditions. Some Indonesians purpose to keep silent when they lose their enthusiasm and trust in their leader/ superior. It is better to welcome their idea/ grievance but it does not mean to be totally permissive. It also does not mean that you bear all their problems. In this situation, art of listening to show that you care about them is essential. If they feel that you care, they will feel humanized and comfortable. On the contrary, if their ideas/ grievances are underestimated, they will be passive and tend to hide their problem. Grievance that is ignored can cause disharmony because they feel that they are not humanized. By providing channel for their aspirations, conducive culture is developed. In other word, any one will feel comfortable to express their idea and give information to you.

Provide the opportunity to worship and respect their belief. For Indonesians, religion is essential and sensitive matter. They need the opportunity for worship. All Indonesians are religion embracers. The subject related to religions is mentioned in Pancasila (Basic Principles of RI) and in Indonesia Constitution. The majority of Indonesians are Moslems. Moslems shall performs five times required prayers (Sholat) in a day and engage Friday prayers mass (Jumatan) at mosque. Respect this tradition and give them time to worship, provide prayer room at your office for them to pray. Provide sufficient break time in Friday for your employees to give them opportunity to engage Friday prayer mass. The government has set public holidays for religious celebration. In condition that you need your employees to work on holiday, give them opportunity to worship -- let the Christians worship on Sunday and Easter, let the Buddhists worship on Veshak Day, Hinduists worships on Nyepi Day. During Islamic fasting month, don't eat something in front of them. Usually, during this month, they go home early. It is good to conduct fast breaking dinner at your office to maintain the solidarity. Give a greeting when they celebrate their religion.

Offer edible food and non-alcoholic drink. For Indonesians, rice (nasi) is staple food. They are not satisfied if they eat without rice. In their mindset, they will be weak without rice. When providing meal for them, the rice must be included. Majority of Indonesians are Moslems. Not all foods and drinks are allowed for them to consume. Don't offer pork or alcoholic drink, pork and alcohols are forbidden (Haram). Any animal with fang is forbidden. Amphibian is also forbidden. If you want to buy food or drink for them, choose the food or drink, which are Halal certified. Don't offer beef to your Balinese friend because most of them are Hinduists.

Be aware of diversity in Indonesia. Various religions, Race, ethnic groups with various cultures exist in Indonesia. Respect and make good and harmonious relationship with all of them, notwithstanding their religions and ethnics. SARA (Ethnic Group. Religions, Racial Relation) issues are very sensitive in Indonesia. Be careful when you use humour or make a joke, as it may be misunderstood.

Try to get up-to-date information on your industry and regulations. Try to get up-to-date information on your industry and regulations as the country is in transition. You should up date your company regulation with new government provisions. You may consult it to Human Resource Service in order get the up dated information of it. If you face problem related to industrial relation issues, you can consult it to Human Resource Service/ Consultants because they know about the culture and prevailing provisions in Indonesia. Visit www.e-jobz.com to get info concerning recent HR issues in Indonesia or you can ask Human Resource services promoted at this website.

Be patient with tardiness and imprecision. Indonesians usually call the tardiness as "Rubber time ( Jam Karet)". It is common in Indonesia to be unpunctual in meeting, dating and in starting an event. However, try be punctual. If you are late, in the future they will be later than you. Don't be late for meetings (even if they never start on time). Punctuality and technical precission requires a lengthy learning process.

Be low profile. If you disagree with your business partner/ friends/ employees try to say it in a manner that it will give the impression of non-confrontational. Be modest in your negotiations/ discussions and give them the highest respect. Bowing with smile is also gesture of salutation. This low profile attitude shows that you are respectful person.

Learn Indonesian Language. Language is a mean of communication. It is essential to convey the meaning. Not all Indonesians acquire International Language, such as English. By communicating in Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian Language), communication with Indonesians will be held understandably. If you cannot communicate in Indonesian Language, you can use English but you must simplify your language, speak slowly and clearly to make it more comprehensible.

Reward the employees for their loyalty. Payment by result is not readily accepted. People expect to be rewarded also for their loyalty.

Avoid dismissal of employees. Dismissal of employees is culturally undesirable.

Conduct "Gotong Royong". "Gotong Royong" is Indonesian term for mutual cooperation. It calls for community commitment.

Understand status differences. In Indonesia, status differences are unavoidable and viewed positively.

Be polite. Formal politeness and restraint of emotions are imperative.

Show the respect to the family of the deceased. Do condolence visit and assistance. Use cash for token donation. Wear black, white, and blue dress. These are the dress code for condolence visit.

Be careful in handling the disobedience against company regulation Transgression against company regulation must be handled carefully.

Give direct appraisal of performance. Direct appraisal of performance can be delicate. It is as delicate balancing act.

Don't:

Give, receive, and eat with the left hand. To give, receive, and eat with the left hand is unacceptable and considered impolite. The left hand is toilet hand. They usually use their left hand to cleanse up after urinating or defecating. That is why they consider the left hand dirty.

Touch or pat on another's head. The head is sacred and should be respected. Patting on another's head is not done among adults and even should be avoided with children.

Spit in the presence of people. When an Indonesians are disgusted at seeing the filth or something disgusting, they usually spit. They will think that you insult them or that you are disgusted at seeing them. Spittle is also considered nauseating.

Say that you are atheist. Indonesians had traumatic experience with communists. The past national tragedy in 1966 was related to Indonesian communist party. Many Indonesians still consider communists their enemies. In their mindsets, they always misinterpret atheists as communists. It is common for Indonesians to ask about someone's religion. If you say that you are atheist or do not believe in God, they will think that you are communist. Don't say that you are atheist.

Put your head up when you are in front of them. It is better to make eye contact with them with friendly smile. If you put your head up, they will think that you do not want to see them. They will think that you are arrogant.

Waste your time and effort against Labour Union. It is a trouble if treat the labour union as a group of militant troublemakers. Keep in mind that they and your company have the same dream. Both labour union and your company try to find the very best way to care about the employee's welfare. By respecting them, they will contribute their support in time and effort. In recent most cases, presence of 'authentic' local labour unions does help facilitate the negotiation process when Companies and workers are in disputes. Companies and workers will need continue to trust in each other's mutual goodwill to settle disputes in bipartite negotiations. It does imply to be a degree of willingness on both parties to overcome obstacle through dialogue. If you need any assistance in Industrial Relation and Human Resource Development, you can use human resource and industrial relation service at www.e-jobz.com. Please don't hesitate to contact us at admin@e-jobz.com">admin@e-jobz.com.

Instruct/ warn your employees rudely with the high stress intonation or in the presence of other people. Don't Show anger. Pointing your finger to people to show anger is impolite. Indonesians are also sensitive to the high stress intonation and impolite behaviour. If you feel angry or impatient about something don't show it as you may loose face. Shouting at them harshly is considered impolite. It makes them uncomfortable and decreases their morale. They will be afraid to talk with you or prefer to avoid you. Even if you do not meant to be personal, they will feel it is personal and you do not like them. It also makes them nervous and their performance may get worse. Avoid over criticism and scolding them in the presence of other people, especially their friends or subordinates because it they will feel disgraced. If you do it, you decrease their self-esteem, especially if you do it to the older man. "Saving their face" is wise action when you criticize them. Evade shaming them openly and avoid losing their dignity. Avoid the use of rude or taboo word because they tend to judge the people based on the way they speak. If you want to warn them, try to use polite way and interpersonal approach, give suggestion and guide them.

Be offended if Indonesians ask question about your private life. Don't be offended if Indonesians inquire about your religion, your marital status or number of children. Those are common questions Indonesians ask each other, too. These topics usually occur during chit-chat. These questions are the opening conversation to get closer and more familiar to the persons they speak with.

Kiss in greeting and in front of public. It is not common in Indonesia to greet each other with a kiss. It is only applicable in their immediate family. It is acceptable to give small kiss your spouse if there are other people. However, kissing your spouse or your fiancé passionately in the presence of others is considered taboo. Kissing your friends is not common in Indonesian's culture even less is kissing those who are of different sex. Be aware of your touch. Giving a hug to or putting your arm around your friend of different gender is uncommon in Indonesian culture.

Hold arms akimbo. People will consider person, with his/her arm on the hips and elbows bent outwards, showing arrogant way. Indonesians label it as cocky stance. In maintaining relationship, Indonesians prefer low profile person to arrogant persons.