Malaysian Culture

Business Culture

Primary Author
Nina Evason,


  • While punctuality is not generally a high priority in Malaysia, it is still expected in the business setting. However, meetings may start later than scheduled even if everyone is present, as people tend not to rush or appear urgent.
  • In Malaysia, people enter a meeting in order of importance with the highest-ranking person arriving first, and so on. The same goes for introductions.
  • You are expected to greet everyone in the room individually – even if the group is large.
  • Malaysian business culture is very hierarchical. Be sure to respect the seating arrangement that is chosen as it will reflect everyone’s position within their organisations.
  • Receiving Business Cards: Asian culture interprets the respect you show one's business card to be indicative of the respect you will show the individual in business. Use both hands (or the right hand only) to receive a business card as the left hand is considered unclean and is used for the removal of dirt and for cleaning. Do not put the card away immediately, but regard it carefully and then place it in on the table before you until everyone is seated. Do not put it in the back pocket of your pants as this could be taken as you sitting on the individual’s face. Similarly, do not write on a card unless directed to do so.
  • Presenting Business Cards: Use both hands (or the right hand only) when presenting a business card, making sure that the writing is facing the other person. Do not deal out your cards as though you were playing a game of cards as this risks being interpreted as rude.
  • Allow a few moments of social conversation to pass before mentioning business.
  • Do not expect a decision to be reached during initial meetings as they are usually reserved for establishing relationships and objectives.
  • Make a habit of asking the person with the senior rank for their opinion.
  • The most advantageous approach is to be friendly yet still somewhat formal in meetings with Malaysians.
  • Everyone is consulted before reaching a decision, which can lead to lengthy negotiations. Try to remain patient and don’t expect things to be done quickly.
  • Meeting agendas may be interrupted by the prayer sessions of practising Muslims. If you know your Malaysian counterpart prays (not all do), it’s a good idea to schedule in the time for the midday prayer. This is the prayer most likely to overlap with the working day. Be patient and respectful if some or all Malaysians leave briefly to pray. They will return when they have finished.

Relationship Oriented

Personal relationships play a large role in Malaysian business culture. Trust is key to good business for them, and therefore they will be looking for an honest commitment to the business relationship from you. Their business networks are often comprised of relatives and peers as is assumed to guarantee trust. They will often ask many questions about your family and personal life, which can sometimes come across as and overly personal. However, it is not intended that way. In fact, they will expect you to ask the same of them.

Consider that if you lose your temper or become aggressive at all during your interactions with a Malaysian, you may lose their trust in doing business with you. All matters of disagreement or conflict should be dealt with in the most diplomatic, private manner possible. Any kind of criticism can be seen as overly . Therefore, do not criticise any colleague in front of others. It can be more tactful to use a third person to deliver bad news or criticism indirectly.


  • Workplaces in Malaysia are very hierarchical, based on age and position. Everyone has a distinct place and role within their business. Given how strongly tiered the system is, Malaysians’ subordinates may struggle to express opinions that differ from those of their leaders. It can be a good idea to gently encourage them to be open about any misgivings they have that haven’t already been mentioned.
  • If you are seeking to reward or treat a colleague/business partner, you should clearly explain that the act does not require a reciprocating favour in return. Malaysians can feel obligated to reciprocate acts of kindness – to the point that it may actually cause them stress if the gesture is beyond their means.
  • Many Malaysians have a view of the world that leads them to attribute some of the successes and failures of their business ventures to the will of God. Thus, they may take into account feelings of instinct or thoughts informed by their faith when making decisions. They may not always rely on hard facts alone.
  • Most Malaysian business people have travelled internationally and are culturally aware; however, your experience may vary depending on , age, gender and status.
  • Do not immediately reject a Malaysian’s proposal; when you reject someone's idea, it can be interpreted as rejecting the person who made it.
  • For the sake of saving , many Malaysians avoid giving a flat negative response to proposals you make, even when they don’t agree with it. Therefore, focus on hints of hesitation, listening for what they say, but also paying close attention to what they subtly allude to. You can always double-check your understanding by asking open-ended questions.
  • On the (2017), Malaysia ranks 62nd out of 180 countries, receiving a score of 47 (on a scale from 0 to 100). This perception suggests that the country’s public sector is moderately clean from corruption.

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