If you have an ongoing relationship and need someone in your firm to represent you, make sure you introduce them in person to your Indonesian counterparts. Indonesians place great emphasis on personal introductions as the basis of trust. The status of the people who make the initial contact with the Indonesians is very important. Don’t insult the Indonesians by sending someone with a low rank.


Westerners are expected to be punctual for business appointments. Call if you are delayed. However, it is very common for Indonesians to arrive late. It is important not to comment on the lateness of your Indonesian associates. To Indonesians “time” does not equal money but “harmony and great relations” do. In terms of punctuality, you will need to learn this as you go.

In some offices, punctuality is not prized. While in other offices people have to be at work on time and punctuality is respected.


When scheduling business meetings with your Indonesian counterparts take into consideration that Muslims pray five times a day. Prayers usually last fifteen minutes and time should be allocated for them. Also pay attention to religious holidays and Ramadan, the fasting month.


Deadlines seem rather flexible. You have to take time to learn the pace and rhythm of an office. The best way is to approach it by applying a Western work ethic and adjusting your expectations in terms of completing projects accordingly. It’s important to be flexible, get to know your colleagues/employees or workers and the pace of their work, and have realistic goals.


A conservative and modest dress sense should be adopted especially by women. Skirt hemlines should fall below the knee and the shoulders should always be covered. Women should dress conservatively, and avoid wearing anything that is “too open”. Tight-fitting clothes are best avoided.

Because of the extreme heat and humidity, business dress in Indonesia is often casual. Many businesspersons wear a short-sleeved shirt without a tie or an open-necked, long-sleeved batik shirt to the office. Batik is also good for formal social situations such as wedding receptions or ceremonies.


Indonesians don’t get right down to business. An initial meeting may last 45-60 minutes without accomplishing much. After this amount of time, the visitor should initiate leaving. Patience is a necessity when doing business in Indonesia.

Business dealings are usually slow, long, and frustrating.

Business relationships must be allowed to develop over time. Several visits are generally necessary to complete a contract. Personal visits are important to Indonesians. With the COVID situation, face-to-face meetings become limited. They do not respond well to email, Indonesians prefer exchanging messages via WhatsApp.


Indonesians will never indicate if they do not understand something. Recap what you have discussed in your face-to-face meeting or online meeting to avoid any misunderstandings, avoid being aggressive, and create a safe space for your Indonesian counterpart. If you are unsure, politely ask again.


Do not use red ink when writing or having printing done.


Do not rush into negotiating a deal. Take time to establish a great relationship that is based on goodwill, respect, and trust. Negotiations should start at the top of a corporation and then move down to the operating level to discuss technical matters. Later on, discussions will return once again to the top level of the company.

To Indonesians insisting on a written contract is a breach of trust, though many understand a Westerner’s need for such documents. A contract should be viewed as a guideline rather than a statement of duties and responsibilities.

Clarification and feedback are a necessity throughout negotiations. Avoid disagreement and, especially, arguments with Indonesians.


Indonesians’ communication style is indirect which means yes can be no. Indonesians do not always say what they mean and it is up to you, as the listener, to read the underlying message of gestures and body language. Not willing to be impolite or embarrassed, Indonesians end up conveying exactly the opposite of what they actually mean.

Indonesian has several words that say, “Yes,” but actually mean, “No.” Translations in English fail to capture the intent!

  • “I understand.”
  • “We will see,
  • “Yes, but..
  • “it is inconvenient”
  • “I am not sure
  • ‘maybe”.
  • “We need discuss it internally”.
  • “We’re still processing it’
  • “We will study you matter first”
  • “We will get back to you”
  • “We will look into it”

If the Indonesians no longer wish to pursue the deal, they may not tell you. They may become increasingly inflexible, difficult to contact, and hard-nosed, forcing you to break off negotiations.


Indonesians rarely disagree in public. To succeed in negotiations with Indonesians, do not apply pressure or be confrontational.

Forcing the Indonesian to say “no” will quickly end a relationship. Indonesian’s biggest fear is losing their face. In a conflict or disagreement, they are going to cover up their feelings and say what they think you want to hear. It is important not to offend your Indonesian associates. Be polite and, again, reassure them it is safe to express their opinions privately.


Foreigners are often treated as experts regardless of their education or experience.

The qualities most regarded though are the ability to be flexible and adapt to the conditions while not trying to impose Western work values and expectations. Being open-minded and flexible and being able to adapt quickly to various situations while contributing to the work is what will win them over.

Patience, flexibility, and easy-going personality (not being a doormat but being friendly) are qualities of a respected superior. People in positions of authority need to show strong leadership and may have to delicately push staff to get things done.


In Indonesia business is only done with friends, not with strangers. Especially with the Indonesian Chinese community. Therefore, it is very important to establish a personal relationship in the workplace and especially with a client before getting to business. Building relationships can be done with a few meals at restaurants, a few rounds of golf, etc. There’s no standard time on how long it will take before you can establish trust. Building relationship is an ongoing exercise.

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