- Indirect Communication: Indonesians are generally indirect communicators. They make less use of words and are more attentive to posture, expression and tone of voice to draw meaning. Speech is ambiguous, often understating the point or corrective remarks to be polite. The purpose of this is to maintain harmony throughout the conversation and prevent a loss of face on either end of the exchange. The best way of finding the underlying meaning is to check for clarification several times using open-ended questions.
- Refusals: An Indonesian’s preoccupation with saving face and politeness can mean that they will be reluctant to give a flat “no” or negative response, even when they do not agree with you. Therefore, focus on hints of hesitation. Listen closely to what they say, but also pay careful attention to what they don’t say and double check understandings to clarify meaning.
- Soft Voices: When initially meeting a stranger, an Indonesian may speak quite softly and submissively. However, they usually have no reservations in raising their voices when they get excited and can be quite loud once you get to know them. Nevertheless, shouting or expressing anger in one’s voice is generally not appropriate. More prudish Indonesians can see it to reflect a poor education or upbringing.
- Silence: Silence is an important and purposeful tool used in Asian communication. Pausing before giving a response indicates that someone has applied appropriate thought and consideration to the question. This signifies politeness and respect.
- Personal Space: Indonesians are generally accustomed to having less personal space than Australians as public spaces (in the cities especially) can be very crowded. People commonly sit and stand closer to one another, however what privacy can be afforded is respected.
- Physical Contact: Indonesians are generally quite modest with regards to physical contact. While a pat on the shoulder can signify comfort or approval, physical affection is usually only shown between close friends and family. Practicing Muslims may be uncomfortable touching the opposite gender in any way unless they are a close friend or relative. Indonesian men generally do not touch older women in public at all aside from a handshake.
- Eye Contact: It is expected that one diverts their eyes out of respect when speaking to someone older or of a higher social status. Indonesians tend to make direct eye contact with their peers, but still break the gaze quite frequently. They may feel awkward holding prolonged eye contact and divert their eyes when speaking with Westerners, however people from the cities are generally more accustomed to it.
- Hands: There is a separation of function of the hands in Indonesia, influenced by Islamic culture. The left hand is considered unclean and is used for the removal of dirt and cleaning. Therefore, it is not used for actions such as waving, eating or offering items.
- The Head: The head is considered the purest part of an Indonesian’s body and should never be touched. When Indonesians pass people of superior status on the street, they may lower their head below the height of that person as a sign of respect.
- Feet: The feet are considered the lowliest part of a person’s body. Displaying the soles of one’s feet to another person is considered rude and improper. Similarly, placing one’s feet on top of the table is not unacceptable.
- Hands on Hips: Holding one’s hands on one’s hips can signal anger.
- Pointing: For traditional Javanese people in particular, pointing is done with the thumb instead of the index finger.