Cross-cultural management: Asian-Australian business relations

by 07 Nov 2012

Tamerlaine Beasley outlines what people in Asian cultures find challenging about dealing with Australian businesses.

The laidback, easygoing culture of Australia endears us to many. Visitors to Australia often comment on our friendly, relaxed and casual nature.

But what impact do our values and informal behaviour have when doing business with people from more hierarchical cultures, such as those in most of Asia?

There has never been a more important time for Australians to understand the vast and diverse region in which we now live. Asia purchases almost three-quarters of Australia's exports, provides nearly half of our imports and 40% of the world's economic activity is now in Asia.

Some of the largest behavioural differences between Asian and Australian business cultures include:

Australian lack of formality

Our reluctance to use titles, and our desire to refer to everyone on a first-name basis, is valued in our culture. We prefer to treat everyone equally. In Asian cultures, where it is important to treat everyone according their position and status, our behaviour is perceived as disrespectful.

The way Australians speak

A common story from the Asian members of Asia-Pacific management teams is they can understand each other’s English, which they all speak it as a non-native language, but struggle to understand Australians English. This includes our accent and our use of idioms and slang. 

Aussie humour

Classic Australian humour is laconic, self-deprecating, and full of banter and “put-downs”. We often use this style of humour to demonstrate our affection and respect for each other.

To people from hierarchical cultures, this behaviour is curious. Why would you choose to insult people in order to show you respect them? 

Our focus on task over relationship

Many Australian business people know in Asian cultures the development of relationships is far more crucial to success than in Australia. Yet our way of developing relationships and establishing an equal playing field through the use of humour, first names and informal English, can create unnecessary barriers and hinder success.    

The keys to Australian businesses being successful in Asia are perseverance, patience and building relationships. For successful engagement in business in the region, don’t just focus on understanding the culture of ‘the other’ but take the time to reflect on what it is about Australian culture which may be challenging. 

When we work in culturally diverse contexts, everyone needs to adapt, and to give and take.  Think about your business practice and process - is it welcoming to people of other cultures? How will what you say and do be construed by someone who has grown up in a different cultural context?

These differences in our culture, values and communication styles can have an impact on how your business is perceived by your Asian counterparts.

Being effective when working in diverse intercultural workplaces can be a challenge, but starting to view your business culture ‘from the outside’ will assist you to be able to make positive changes and take advantage of the great opportunities on offer from the Asian century.


About the author

Tamerlaine Beasley is managing director, Beasley Intercultural.

Beasley Intercultural works with organisations in Australia and across the Asia-Pacific region to build global workforce capability for the Asian century. We are the largest provider of Asia capable workforce solutions in Australia. By applying multiple perspectives, rather than a single focus on “the other”, we enable our clients to leverage the existing diversity in their organisations, while providing the knowledge and capability to achieve results in a globalised workplace. Visit: