Tips for doing business in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, is an island country in the northern Indian Ocean off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent in South Asia. Sri Lanka has maritime borders with India to the northwest across the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Strait, and the Maldives to the southwest. Colombo is the capital city. Ethnic in Sri Lanka consist of Sinhalese 73.8%, Sri Lankan Moors 7.2%, Indian Tamil 4.6%, Sri Lankan Tamil 3.9%. Sinhala (also called Sinhalese or Singhalese) is the mother tongue of the Sinhalese ethnic group which is the largest in Sri Lanka. It belongs to the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European languages. Below are the tips for doing business in Sri Lanka.

Hierarchy

  • The influences of Buddhism and Hinduism as well as the caste system have created a culture that operated within a hierarchical system.
  • Sri Lankans are conscious of social order and status.
  • All relationships, whether in family life or at the office, to some extent involve hierarchies.
  • At home the patriarch (the father or oldest male in the household) is considered the leader of the family. In the office, the boss/owner is seen as the source of ultimate responsibility in business. All relationships within these circles are then based on upon people’s positions within the hierarchy.

Meeting and Greeting
Sri Lankan business etiquette can be rather formal. Always remember that as a guest you will be given some leeway in terms of appreciating all the cultural nuances, but it is still best to try and adhere to some of the local customs.

  • Shaking hands is the most common form of greeting.
  • Handshakes are firm.
  • Greetings are given upon meeting and leaving.
  • Men may shake hands with other men and women may shake hands with other women.
  • Many Sri Lankan women may not want to shake hands with men. Wait for a woman to extend her hand.
  • As with most hierarchical cultures, Sri Lankans use titles.
  • If someone does not have a professional title, use the honorific title “Sir” or “Madam”.
  • Titles are used with the person’s name or the surname.
  • Wait to be invited before using someone’s first name.

Business Card Etiquette

  • Business cards are usually exchanged after an initial handshake and greeting.
  • Titles and qualifications are important so be sure to add them to your card.
  • Having one side of your business card translated into Sinhala or Tamil is a nice touch but not crucial.
  • Always present your business card with two hands.
  • Treat people’s business cards with respect – so keep don’t put them into pockets, draw on them or use them in any manner that may be disrespectful.

Face

  • Face, which can be described as honour or personal dignity, is extremely important to Sri Lankans.
  • Face can be given or lost in social situations and it is important to avoid the latter.
  • In business, for example, publicly reprimanding or criticising someone would lead to a loss of face for both parties. As a result Sri Lankans are very conscious of protecting their and others’ face at all times.
  • This manifests in many ways. For example, many Sri Lankans will not feel comfortable making decisions since this may lead to failure which then leads to loss of face. Similarly, if asked a question to which the answer is “no” many Sri Lankans would prefer not to be so blunt and may give rather vague or uncommitted answers in order to avoid losing face.

Communication

  • Maintaining face is important for all communication.
  • Do not put people in awkward positions or under pressure. Never openly criticise people.
  • Sri Lankans are very non-confrontational in their communication style and it is important to try and read between the lines. They may say one thing but mean another and it is up to the listener to work out the message.
  • Watch for long pauses, avoidance of eye contact or blatant tactics of evasion.

Business Meetings

  • As relationships are so important for business it is always wise to invest time in relationship-building conversations at the start of any meetings.
  • The Sri Lankans will want to feel at ease with you and at least have a small bit of background about you before they will feel comfortable doing business or discussing business with you.
  • In fact a first meeting with a company should be approached as purely a relationship building exercise.
  • Prior to a meeting it may be worth while sending some background information on your company, the attendees and an agenda for the meeting.
  • Meetings may be interrupted by other business but this should not be interpreted as rude in any way.
  • Initial meetings will usually take place with middle ranking personnel who gather information to present to the decision maker. Getting to the decision maker through them is based on establishing good rapport and having a solid proposal.
  • Remember only the top level person at a company will usually make decisions so be patient and do your best to meet the person face-to-face.

Source of Information : http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/resources/global-etiquette/srilanka.html

Jaraswan Jarasjaruwan or Pear is a full-time MIM student. She got a Bachelor’s of Science from Chulalongkorn University in Thailand. After she graduated, she worked as an educational consultant in Thailand for 2 years. Pear chose to study international business at Portland State University because she is interested in the business field and also the reputation of the university. Currently, Pear is studying Chinese as a third language. Also, she will choose Global Marketing as her specialization in the Master of International Management program.
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