Meeting & Greeting
Within the business context most Malaysian businesspeople are culturally and internationally exposed. Your experience may very well depend upon the ethnicity, age, sex and status of the person you are meeting.
Initial greetings should be formal and denote proper respect. If in a team, introduce the most important person first. Many Malays and Indians are uncomfortable shaking hands with a member of the opposite sex. Foreign men should always wait for a Malaysian woman to extend her hand. Foreign women should also wait for a Malaysian man to extend his hand. To demonstrate respect Chinese may look downwards rather than at the person they are meeting.
It is important that professional titles (professor, doctor, engineer) and honorific titles are used in business. Malays and Indians use titles with their first name while Chinese use titles with their surname.
It is a good idea for the most senior person on your team to enter first so that he or she is the first to greet the most senior Malaysian. This gives face to both parties as it demonstrates respect towards the Malaysian and shows that you respect hierarchy within your company.
It is customary for leaders to sit opposite each other around the table. Many companies will have their team seated in descending rank, although this is not always the case.
Expect the most senior Malaysian to give a brief welcoming speech. You need not reciprocate. There will be a period of small talk, which will end when the most senior Malaysian is comfortable moving to the business discussion.
Meetings may be conducted or continue over lunch and dinner. Meetings, especially initial ones, are generally somewhat formal. Treat all Malaysian participants with respect and be cautious not to lose your temper or appear irritated. At the first meeting between two companies, Malaysians will generally not get into in-depth discussions. They prefer to use the first meeting as an opportunity to get to know the other side and build a rapport, which is essential in this consensus-driven culture.
As an extension to the need to maintain harmonious relations, Malaysians rely on non-verbal communication (i.e. facial expressions, tone of voice, body language, etc). Such a communication style tends to be subtle, indirect and. Malays may hint at a point rather than making a direct statement, since that might cause the other person to lose face. Rather than say "no", they might say, "I will try", or "I’ll see what I can do". This allows the person making the request and the person turning it down to save face and maintain harmony in their relationship.
If you are unsure about the affirmative response you received, you may want to continue the discussion, re-phrasing the question in several different ways so that you may compare responses. If the response was given because the Malaysian did not know how to respond in the negative without causing offence, this may come out. Alternatively, they may have someone else give you the bad news.
Silence is an important element of Malaysian communication. Pausing before responding to a question indicates that they have given the question appropriate thought and considered their response carefully. Many Malaysians do not understand the Western propensity to respond to a question hastily and can consider such behaviour thoughtless and rude.
Malaysians may laugh at what may appear to outsiders as inappropriate moments. This device is used to conceal uneasiness.
Do not show anger in public as it makes Malaysians uncomfortable and creates a feeling of powerlessness. There is a greater chance of achieving a good outcome id you are calm, whereas little is resolved by shouting.
Gift Giving Etiquette
Simple gifts are sometimes exchanged after a first meeting. Always use two hands when giving and receiving gifts and they are not to be opened when they are received. If given a gift it is customary to reciprocate the gesture with a gift of the same monetary value.
For men, conservative coloured suits with white shirts and ties. Jackets are not a must but good to have just in case. As for women, conservative skirts (below the knee), pants, suits, and blouses are appropriate. Avoid short, tight fitting and sleeveless attire.
Being well groomed is appreciated. Jeans, shorts, and business casual attire are not recommended. Avoid wearing anything yellow if possible as it is designated for the Malaysian royalty.
Business cards are exchanged after the initial introductions. If you will be meeting Chinese, have one side of your card translated into Chinese, with the Chinese characters printed in gold. If you will be meeting government officials, have one side of your card translated into Bahasa Malaysia.
Use two hands or the right hand only to exchange business cards, and examine any business card you receive before putting it in your business card case. The respect you show someone's business card is indicative of the respect you will show the individual in business. Act accordingly. Never write on someone's card in their presence.