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Tips for you about working with other cultures – and the best advice I ever got about working in Singapore

I’m forever indebted to the Asian businessman who gave me some great advice when he heard I was regularly training organisations in Singapore.

I’ve been travelling to Singapore since 2005 on training trips to help Western and Asian audiences improve the way they work withpresent to and write to each other.

The Asian businessman who gave me the good advice was experienced with both the Western Corporate culture and Singaporean ways. Even though Singapore is heavily Westernized, you will benefit from showing some cultural awareness and sensitivity.

His advice:

  1. Don’t get between Singaporeans and their food – Don’t make Singaporeans late for lunch and definitely don’t make them work through lunch
  2. Share with your audience about your family – especially your children

I took this valuable advice and it really helped me:

1. create a greater connection with my audience and

2. avoid annoying them.

From my Western business background I would have seen working through lunch as a sign of my commitment to the task.  Quick desk-dining was seen as a badge of honour and taking lunch could be seen as a “soft”.

Now when I work training Singaporeans, I make sure I structure my training around their lunch. In the past I would have a quick snack and then work through lunch (catching up on e-mails etc. during the lunch break) but now as I am often invited to join my Singaporean colleagues for lunch – I take the time to bond over food. It’s worth it.

Ice Kachang dessert


I must work hard to research the Singaporean love of food! A sacrifice I am prepared to make.

Also, regarding family, Westerners usually keep their private lives out of business – especially business presentations. I took the advice and even inserted some photos of my family (especially my children) near the start my  presentations and this created greater connection and rapport with my audience.

When working in another country and culture, it’s vital to understand that the “Western way” is not the only way.

In turn, I help my Singaporean audiences be aware of Western sensitivities.

I advise them to tread carefully about discussing how old Westerners are and how many children they have.

In Asia, people often ask about your age because age is often respected more than it is in Western business culture and they ask about age to ascertain your “status”. I also explain regarding children that not all Western business people choose to or are able to have children – so it’s a sensitive topic to ask (unless or until you know someone has children).

One of the funniest comments I found was when some Singaporean colleagues asked me about the cultural differences between Americans, Australians, Brits and Irish. They sincerely confided: “You all look the same to us!”

In a future post, I’ll share tips on how to present to Asian audiences.


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