Sri Lankan Culture

Business Culture


  • It is best to be punctual, but also be prepared to wait as the Sri Lankan sense of time is relaxed.
  • Be prepared to wait for the highest ranking to arrive.
  • People enter a meeting in order of importance with the highest ranking person entering the room first, and so on. The same order is followed for introductions.
  • If you are being introduced to your Sri Lankan counterpart by a mutual acquaintance, you may find that they ask that person questions about you while you are present. This is not considered rude. Try and let the third party answer on your behalf.
  • Initial meetings are generally reserved for building rapport and business relationships.
  • Decisions are made by those of the highest-ranking position, so it will be hard to reach results during initial meetings with middle-ranking personnel if they do not have the authority of the head office.
  • Do your best to be patient as negotiations are likely to progress more slowly than what you are used to.
  • It is normal for meetings to be interrupted by other items of business. Try and remain open to a more fluid agenda and avoid showing your impatience.
  • Use both hands (or the right hand only) to receive a business card. Do not put it in the back pocket of your pants as this could be taken as you sitting on the person's face. Similarly, do not write on a card unless directed to do so.
  • Similarly, 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; this risks being interpreted as rude.

Relationship Oriented

Personal relationships play a large role in Sri Lankan business culture. Third-party introductions are almost a necessity as Sri Lankans prefer to work with those they know and trust. They generally look for an honest commitment to the business relationship from you. Many business networks are often comprised of relatives and peers as is assumed to guarantee trust.

In working to build confidence and loyalty in a business relationship, Sri Lankans tend to ask a great deal about their partners. You may consider some questions asked to be too personal or unrelated to the point at hand, but try to be patient and forthcoming for the sake of the business relationship.

All matters of disagreement or conflict should be dealt with in the most diplomatic manner possible. If you offend your business partner, do not ignore the fact that you did so as this will likely jeopardise your relationship. If you do not know what to do, it is a good idea to have someone more senior than yourself apologise on your behalf.

Other Considerations

  • First names are not generally appropriate in the Sri Lankan workplace. Address everyone by their professional title or an honorable title.
  • Workplaces in Sri Lanka are hierarchical based on age and position, and decisions are made by those with the highest-ranking positions. A Sri Lankan may feel unable to agree on much without his superiors present to confirm his decision. Therefore, they are likely to be more flexible and willing to compromise between meetings when they can check back with the head office.
  • In an effort to get to know you, Sri Lankans often prefer face-to-face meetings and for some discussions to be conducted over a meal.
  • A Sri Lankan will seldom give a flat negative response to proposals you make, even when they don’t agree with them. Therefore, focus on hints of hesitation. Listen carefully to what they say, but also pay close attention to what they don’t say and double-check your understanding with open-ended questions. Long pauses, avoidance of eye contact and other signs of evasiveness are good indications that a Sri Lankan does not agree with what you are saying.
  • Furthermore, in Sri Lanka, the polite way to say no is to say, “I’ll see what I can do”, or something to that effect no matter how impossible the task may be. After they have been queried several times , an answer of “I’m still checking” or something similar means “no”. Such an response also means “I am still your friend/ally; I tried”.
  • Consider that Sri Lankans do not always base their decisions solely on facts and figures. Feelings of intuition, instinct and faith can often influence their decisions.
  • On the (2017), Sri Lanka ranks 91st out of 180 countries, receiving a score of 38 (on a scale from 0 to 100). This perception suggests that the country’s public sector is somewhat corrupt.

Want this profile as a PDF?

Get a downloadable, printable version that you can read later.


A unified, searchable interface answering your questions on the world’s cultures and religions

Sign up for free