The networking etiquette in Bali

networking etiquette
Updated 2022-09-20 23:10

In Bali and Indonesia, networking events are often regarded as formal events. It is, therefore, critical to have a good understanding of the customs and etiquette to fit into that type of setting.

Respecting the hierarchy in Bali

Working in Bali is usually rather relax, but there are some things you need to be mindful of when interacting with your Balinese colleagues and the local population. Indonesia is a hierarchically structured society, with a particular emphasis on age differences and deep respect for the elderly. This is especially crucial in a formal meeting such as a business meeting or networking events in Bali.

Since it can be difficult to ascertain the exact age of participants in a business meeting, play it safe by using honorific prefixes like "Pak" for men and "Ibu" for women. Once you get better acquainted with your interlocutors, you will use "Mas" for young men and "Mba" for young women. As you might have understood, it is considered impolite to address a stranger by his or her first or last name, especially at an official event. However, this rule is more flexible during Western-style business meetings.

Introducing oneself in Bali

In Bali, when meeting someone for the first time, be content with a handshake as a greeting. Hold out your right hand only, as the left hand is considered impure. Don't forget to throw in a smile as a sign of politeness. In the case of a Muslim woman wearing a hijab, wait for her to hold out her hand; otherwise, just nod and smile.

Whatever the context, don't forget to hand out your business card, always with your right hand!

Dress code in Bali

As far as dress code is concerned, since most business meetings in Bali are considered formal events, it is best to follow the norm, and that includes Bali. This may entail formal cut clothing, but in a light fabric to accommodate weather conditions. When in doubt, wear something made of batik, a traditional Balinese fabric.

On a professional evening, men would usually wear a long-sleeved Batik shirt, whereas short-sleeved shirts can be worn during the daytime. For women, it is better to opt for an elegant dress or a modest Batik blouse that covers the neckline. Avoid revealing or tight clothing at all costs, as the Balinese are relatively conservative.

What do we talk about in Bali (or don't)?

Entrenched in the Indonesian culture are four topics of conversation that should be avoided at all costs in a public conversation. There is even a mnemonic way to remember them, and it is called SARA, for Suku, Agama, Ras Dan Golongan. These are topics related to religions, ethnicities, political affiliations, and beliefs. This is totally understandable, especially when one considers that Indonesia counts more than 17,000 islands, has more than 300 recognized ethnic groups, and 5 official religions. As such, the Indonesian population is indeed very diverse, and sensitivity levels can easily trigger tensions.

Each person is unique and proud of his or her religious, ethnic and political background. It is therefore impolite, for example, to ask about a person's religion at the first meeting. However, in the context of everyday life, it can be a way to break the ice.

Be aware, however that given your expatriate status, your local interlocutor may, out of the blue, ask for your country of origin.

Otherwise, during meetings, avoid angry topics. Balinese and Indonesian society, in general, is communal and non-confrontational. In fact, it despises public confrontation. Conversations should, therefore, always be conducted in a gentle tone, with lots of smiles, and always in private.

The body language in Bali

There are also rules about body language to be mindful of in Indonesia. Since the head is considered a sacred part of the body, never touch another person's head or try to reach something by placing your arm over his or her head. Also, avoid aggressive body language, such as placing your hands on your hips or crossing your arms, both of which are signs of impatience and/or dissatisfaction.

Consuming alcohol in Bali

Depending on the composition of the crowd and the level of formality of a networking event in Indonesia, alcohol can be made available or not. For example, at a formal meeting where there is a majority of Indonesians, no alcohol will be served. However, in Bali, where there are many English-speaking clubs and organizations, like the Rotary Club or Skal International, alcohol is usually responsibly served during networking events that are mainly attended by expatriates.

Spoken languages in Bali

Since Bali is a major international tourist destination, the Balinese population is familiar with Westerners and their customs. As a matter of fact, most Indonesians and Balinese, especially those who work in the liberal professions, are fluent in basic English. At an international networking event, however, while English is at the top of the list, Indonesians are very appreciative of expatriates who make the effort to speak Bahasa Indonesian, which is considered very good for doing business.

Useful links:

Bali Networking

Indonesian culture, official page

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