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Manners and Customs
As a collectivist society, the good of the group comes before individual desires. This includes group, harmony, and mutual security. Saving face indicates personal dignity and is what Singaporeans strive for in order to achieve good and pleasant relationships. This is considered very important to Singaporeans in both personal and professional relationships. Personal qualities that are admired are a reputable name, good character, and to be held in high esteem by one’s peers.
Hierarchy is very important; the elderly is given the utmost respect and courtesy. They are given preference in all facets of life and treated better than anyone else. The adherences to hierarchical relationships are strong despite Singaporeans claims that they are an egalitarian society. Strangers are treated with respect and given special consideration by those that host meetings and gatherings. As the Singapore’s next generation becomes more individualistic, the high status of the elderly may be challenged.
Greetings follow strict protocols, but depend on the ethnic origin of the person. Age also influences how greetings take place, such as elders, who are given the utmost respect when met by someone younger. Appointments are necessary for both parties and should and everyone involved is expected to show on time. Handshakes are treated differently between the ethnic groups. Ethnic Chinese shake hands, but only with a light grasp. Malays shake hands, but only between men. The same goes for Ethnic Indians. Older generations of ethnic Chinese and Malays may prefer to bow their heads as a sign of respect. Finally, business meetings are considered necessary for the growth of companies. (Commisceo Global, 2017)
Social Structures
The social structures of a culture refer “to the manner in which the society is organized, including its institutions, social groups, statues, and roles. (Satterlee, 2014) Three major social structures that are indicative of national success are the equality of social classes, strength of the family unit, and low crime.
Social Class. Social stratification is very prevalent in Singapore. Social class is just as important as age and ethnicity in determining how Singaporeans perceive their future prospects, in their lives, their families, and the country as a whole. Class boundaries are viewed as mostly permeable with upward mobility likely, but decline if someone is further down the social ladder. Because of this, 46% of Singaporeans are within the middle class, which is the highest in Southeast Asia, and one of the highest in the world. (Ser, 2015) The middle class has stayed stable over time since it was created after Singapore hyper-industrialized. The growth of the middle class is key to a prosperous economy and Singapore’s middle class continues to grow each year.
One perspective of Singapore’s social class is the societal view of merit over social connections. Merit is taught at a young age as the main qualifier for positions of power, especially for government positions, which can enable people to achieve success, regardless of class background. These merit-related factors include education, diligence and ability. Many Singaporeans view their country as meritocracy because those that lead are successful through their own merit.
Family. The family is the cornerstone of the social structure which is made up of unity, loyalty, and reverence for elders. Family, in the Singaporean sense generally includes extended family and close friends who are treated as family members. Respect for the elderly and family support, both help retain core values in Singapore. (Commisceo Global, 2017)
Filial Piety, which is the notion that adult children support their parents when they are in need, is the cornerstone for intergenerational support in Singapore. This support is largely in place of traditional safety nets that other governments would provide. Filial Piety is based on Confucian ethics, which prescribes that those that are raised by noble people must do the same in order to become noble. (Ser, 2015)
Crime. Crime is taken very seriously in Singapore. Formal laws are abundant and are enforced greatly. Serious offenses such as, drug offenses, theft, and murder are all taken seriously. So seriously, that corporal punishment is still widely used, despite Singapore seen as a modern nation. For example, less severe drug charges bring with it long prison terms and corporal punishment in the form of a rattan cane. (Austin, 1987)
The prevalence of strong social controls such as the police force allows for less formal justice systems. The formal controls in Singapore such as the police force and judicial system takes criminal offenses very seriously. As mentioned before, offenses such as drug trafficking, murder, and rape bring about mandatory death penalties. However, Singapore has crime rates far less than that of Western countries. The main reason for this is the as residents moved from shanty towns to high-rise flats a more active police force was needed. When the police force grew, the regular presence combined with the strict laws created a culture of prevention. The threat of rattan forces would-be criminals to think twice before committing a crime. (Austin, 1987)
The police force in Singapore is very positive due to two factors. One, all males must register at 16 years of age for national service. These young men, can elect to serve in the national police force for two years. This system promotes a sense of national duty for young generations. Second, police cadet programs take place throughout Singapore’s secondary schools. Young children are taught the importance of crime prevention early on. A large police force with a positive image along with a strict justice system all contribute to low crime rate in Singapore. (Austin, 1987)
Singapore is seen as a premier “Asian education system” similar to South Korea or Japan. Singapore sees education as central to state building. (Deng ; Gopinathan, 2016). In approximately, 30 years, Singapore managed to achieve an acceptable settlement on the medium of instruction. It provided its graduates with the knowledge and skills for its industrialized economy. It also enhanced social cohesion and citizenship values. Most importantly, it developed an education system founded on merit-based opportunities.
Singapore uses the Asian model of higher education and university research, which focuses on the use of Confucian education systems similar to Japan and Korea. In some ways, Singapore has created a more effective education system than North America and Europe due to the Confucian model. This model rests on four connected elements: strong nation-state shaping of structures, budget, and priorities; a sense of duty to invest in education from households; promoting social competition by allowing only one national exam to enter into university; and quicker public investment in research and universities. However, the downsides include unequal social participation and government interference in school autonomy. In regards to Singapore, it is seen as a highly-developed knowledge-economy due to high global average per capita income and widespread internet use between higher education. The Confucian model is changing the global power in higher education with its higher rate of development compared to western nations. (Deng ; Gopinathan, 2016)
How are these elements and dimensions integrated by locals conducting business in the nation?
Communication in Singaporean Business
English: The language of Business. While Singapore has four official languages, English is considered the language of business. Both business and government speak and prepare written or electronic documents in English. As such, English is taught at an early age to Singaporeans to prepare them for its economy. (Goby, 1999) The business communication courses that are taught at higher education institutions are important for the Singaporeans that plan to enter the business arena. These courses are taught in secondary school, but are mainly taught in higher education, such as University. However, there are many language-based problems that happens when teaching nonnative speakers business communication and therefore these courses have to create a plan of action to address the issue of acceptable language usage.
The people that do speak English, mix it with other languages such as Chinese differentiating it from English spoken in the United States or United Kingdom. In teaching business communication courses, instructors model the classes off of the US, which focus on improving skills, interpersonal communication, and communication theories. In reality, the instructors direct the class on the students’ English language abilities. Today, the accepted local usage of English in Singapore is integrated within the business communication as it is what the speakers will likely use after completing university. This equips Singaporeans with a competitive advantage in the world as they leverage their English skills in business. (Goby, 1999)
Persuasive Communication. Singapore has one of the friendliest business climates in the world. As such, effective business communication is very important in Singaporean culture. There is a high importance of negotiation skills for Singaporean entrepreneurs and business professionals. Kim and Tay (1993) administered a survey of 37 entrepreneurs and examined eight areas where the entrepreneurs believed persuasive communication is most important. They are, raising capital among friends and relatives, seeking bank loans, seeking supplier credit, team building, seeking governmental approval, market entry, selling and promoting, and international business activity.
The top priorities where the respondents believe persuasive communication is most is important is team building with selling and promoting also seen as important. The lowest priorities were dealing with government entities and foreigners from Western and other Asian countries. (Kim & Tay, 1999) The research also found that Singaporean entrepreneurs prefer to negotiate in English as they believe negotiations are most effective in face-to-face communication. As a way to improve, negotiation skills, Kim & Tay recommended that entrepreneurs should choose to study English classes over writing classes in order to better serve their future.
Religion and Business
Singapore rests in a peculiar balance of religious harmony. Due to the nature of the ethnic-religious make-up of the population, and a persistent government fears of disunion between the various ethnic or religious lines, the government led to a strict state-enforced doctrine of religious harmony in Singapore. (Tey, 2008) This known as the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA) and permeates through Singaporean lives, especially throughout their businesses. The act, enacted in 1990, allows the government to take steps against what it perceives to be political activity under the guise of religion. The government works to identify situations which threaten to worsen into a conflict of religious sentiment, and will defuse them in a fast, but discreet manner.
For those Singaporeans who own or work in a business, they have to have to take care not to promote any sort of particular religion. Under the law, they cannot publicly support a religion from the position of their business and they cannot use their business to form political factions for a religion. Because of these parameters, businesses in Singapore are very secular and the members of their organizations do not speak of religion while at work. (Tey, 2008) However, they are allowed to practice it if it is a part of their daily routines. For example, Muslims are expected to pray five times a day towards Mecca. Under the MRHA, they are allowed to do this and business must give their Muslim employees the time to practice this ceremony. While public proselytizing is not allowed, Singaporeans seem to be content to separate their professional and personal lives when it comes to religion in regards to business.
Ethics in Singaporean Business
Moral Reasoning among Managers. The ethical orientations of business managers and business students in Singapore influence how they do business. Corporate managers in particular have to deal with ethical conflicts in the workplace on a daily basis. This makes sense as the moral reasoning process will be significant enough to influence organizational decision making process. Age, education, and religious affiliation had influenced cognitive moral development stages of the respondents. (Wimalasiri, Pavri, & Jalil, 1996) Practicing managers and business students will demonstrate the same level of sensitivity to the ethical dilemmas. However, factors such as vocation, gender and ethnicity do not have a strong effect on moral judgement. Overall, the relationship between moral judgement and moral action is strong for Singaporean business professionals. (Wimalasiri, Pavri, & Jalil, 1996)

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