Brunei Country Profile – Business Etiquette

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Organisational Structure

Brunei’s business model observes a strict hierarchical structure alongside modern attitudes towards international collaboration. Brunei is an Islamic monarchy and this cultural factor influences business and employment to a significant degree. The family and traditional hierarchical structures play a prominent role in business interactions and deals are carried out in a deeply formal and respectful manner.

Management style

Hierarchy is revered in Bruneian culture and those in senior and managerial positions are accorded utmost respect and deference at all times. Working culture is polite and, although everyone’s views will be listened to and considered, it is the responsibility of the senior team to take the final decisions within Bruneian business settings.

Formality

Bruneians are known to be very formal, yet friendly and polite in the professional environment. International visitors and residents are expected to show respect for both Islam and the Royal Family and be respectful of a culture of politeness and honour which dominates Bruneian society. When addressing someone, using the titles "Encik" and "Puan" (the Malay equivalents of Mr and Mrs) would be considered polite.

Relationships

Cultivating the right connections is imperative before embarking on business deals in Brunei. Negotiations can be leisurely and often require more than one meeting in order to build relationships and trust. The concepts of ‘face,’ shame and honour are very important within professional and personal relationships and as a result, Bruneians are very polite and well-mannered so as not to cause others to lose ‘face’. Communication styles are indirect and can be rather ambiguous. Bruneians rarely show their feelings in public and outward shows of emotion or an over-friendly approach would be considered impolite and outright strange in Brunei. This can take some getting used to for those used to a more direct and casual communication style.

Dress code

There is no formal dress code in Brunei, however businessmen are generally expected to wear a smart suit and tie. Western businesswomen are not expected to wear the traditional full body-covering garments worn by Bruneian women. However, women should aim to dress conservatively, with garments which cover the arms and legs (such as a trouser suit or long skirt).

Greetings

It is normal to shake hands with members of your own sex in Brunei, however Bruneian men would rarely shake hands or touch women in any way, both in business and social situations. If your Bruneian counterpart does not extend a handshake, a nod or slight bow is appropriate. It is also considered rude to look directly into the eyes of a Bruneian for a long time, lowering the eyes on greeting is considered a sign of respect. Pointing your index finger, showing the soles of your feet and kissing would also be considered rude.  

Punctuality

Business meetings are formal and punctuality is taken seriously. Therefore, it necessary to make appointments well in advance and to make sure you are early and prepared.

Meetings

Meetings are formal and respectful in Bruneian business culture. It is important to advise everyone attending the meeting who will be present, in order that the most senior people in the room can be accorded appropriate respect. Discussions are polite and reserved and the first meeting with your Bruneian counterparts will be an opportunity to get to know each other and foster good working relationships. Speaking over others, particularly over more senior attendees would be considered extremely rude. Bruneians are not combative in meetings and will gently push their ideas. This can be disconcerting for those used to a more robust meeting style. When arranging meetings, bear in mind that most businesses close on Fridays to allow for prayers.

Cultural sensitivity

Brunei is an Islamic monarchy and the culture is one which adheres to strict and conservative religious rites and traditions. Although other religions are tolerated in Brunei, non-Muslim residents and visitors are expected to show respect towards Islam and the monarchy. Commenting on the Royal Family or Sultan in a negative way would be met with horror. Gender roles, the family and social interaction are strictly governed by Islamic culture and men and women are not permitted to interact in public spaces. The purchase of alcohol is banned in Brunei and consumption of alcohol is prohibited in public places. Offering alcohol to a Muslim is also a crime in Brunei so avoid this at all costs.

Business language

You do not need to be fluent in Malay to do business or work in Brunei, as English is widely spoken. Most Bruneians speak English fluently, as the language is taught from primary school and is one of the main languages of instruction at both secondary school and university.

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