Singaporean Culture

Communication

Verbal

  • Indirect Communication: As an extension of the need to maintain harmonious relations, the Singaporean people rely heavily on indirect communication. They rely less on words and are more attentive to posture, expression and tone of voice to draw meaning. Speech is ambiguous as they may often understate their point. 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 navigating this rhetoric to find the underlying meaning is to check for clarification several times.
  • Refusals: A Singaporean person’s preoccupation with saving face and politeness means they will seldom give a direct ‘no’ or negative response, even when they do not agree with you. Therefore, focus on hints of hesitation. Listen closely to what they say and double check your understanding by asking for their opinion. Though they may not willingly speak up to contest an idea, they generally give their honest opinion when invited to do so.
  • Voice: Speaking loudly can be seen as rude and overbearing in Singapore.


Non-Verbal

  • Pointing: Pointing with the index finger is considered to be rude. Rather, people point by using their whole hand or nod their head in the intended direction.
  • Body Language: It is common for Singaporeans to nod a lot during interactions, however their body language is generally quite modest with gestures being infrequent and restrained.
  • Physical Contact: Singaporeans are generally less accustomed to a receiving lot of physical affection from strangers and tend to reserve touching (such as back-slapping, hugging and holding hands) for close friends. Public displays of affection amongst couples are not always appreciated. However, that being said, Singaporeans are generally used to accidental touching (i.e. on public transport) due to how crowded the country is. 
  • Eye Contact: Eye contact shows confidence and attentiveness in most scenarios. However certain Singaporeans (e.g. particularly Muslim Malays, some Hindus) may avert their eyes more often, particularly when interacting with those superior to them. Holding eye contact for too long can be interpreted as impolite or challenging.
  • 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. It reflects politeness and respect.
  • Head: It is considered disrespectful and offensive to touch someone’s head.
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