Cambodian Culture

Business Culture

Meetings

  • Punctuality is valued in Cambodian business culture. Arriving later than the arranged time may be interpreted as a lack of respect for the person with whom you are meeting.
  • Handshakes are common, but avoid being too firm as this may be interpreted as aggressive.
  • Cambodians often engage in small talk prior to the beginning of meetings.
  • When meeting in a group, you will be introduced to the highest-ranking person. Similarly, you should introduce people on your team according to their rank. This allows your Cambodian counterpart to understand the dynamics of your group.
  • In a meeting, respect and deference is nearly always shown to the most senior person.
  • The most senior person will usually dictate the duration and flow of discussion within the meeting.
  • Meetings tend not to stick to a rigid schedule or agenda. They will continue until all attendees feel as though everything of interest has been satisfactorily discussed.
  • Periods of silence throughout the meeting are accepted and expected.
  • It is best to double-check the clarity of statements if you are unsure about the meaning of what has been said. Cambodians use the term ‘yes’ to have various meanings, not all of which indicate agreement (see ‘Verbal’ in Communication).
  • Bargaining is usually expected. Many vendors will offer a fair price for an item after some time has been spent haggling.

 

Harmony

The creating and maintaining of harmony tends to be highly valued in Cambodian business culture. Cambodians will try to establish or preserve a sense of harmony through maintaining and saving the face of all those involved, building a relationship based on mutual trust and gently bringing forward ideas. In this way, it is best to avoid hard selling, pressure tactics or any other negotiation styles that may create conflict or confrontation. Rather, allow time for getting to know your counterparts and help maintain harmony.

 

Considerations

  • It is important from the outset to determine the hierarchy and seniority of the people you are dealing with and who is responsible for decision-making.
  • Businessmen tend to be addressed with ‘Mr’ followed by the first name, and ‘Madam’ for women. Some senior managers in Cambodian companies may have the title ‘Your Excellency’.
  • Correspondence should be addressed to the senior decision-makers. Decisions often take quite a long time to be deliberated as they are relayed up and down the company’s hierarchy.
  • Cambodians value face-to-face contact when engaging in business. Social engagements such as eating help build trust between potential business partners.
  • Face is an important underlying concept in Cambodia. If a Cambodian business person disagrees with someone, they often will remain silent rather than voice their position in order to avoid tarnishing someone’s face.
  • In order to preserve face, take care to avoid an aggressive or demanding approach in business meetings.
  • While English is becoming more widely spoken in Cambodia, foreigners ought to try to ascertain whether their Cambodian counterpart is fluent in English. If not, it is advisable to use an interpreter to ensure communication within a meeting is smooth.
  • When receiving or offering business cards, the right hand or both hands should be used. It is important to treat your Cambodian counterpart’s business card with respect, as it is a common belief that the way one handles a card is indicative of the way they will treat the giver of the card.
  • On the Corruption Perception Index (2017), Cambodia is ranked 161 out of 180 countries, receiving a score of 21 (on a scale from 0 to 100). This score suggests that the country’s public sector is somewhat corrupt.
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