You will quickly notice that meetings in Indonesia are rather casual. You might even get the impression that the talks are somewhat aimless. Indonesians are also very flexible in terms of time. A meeting will rarely start on time and can last an hour or even a whole day. Interruptions are possible at any time, so don’t plan anything else for the day and stay calm at all times.
Jam karet or “rubber time”
While in many countries it is considered extremely impolite to arrive late for a business appointment without a good excuse, in Indonesia there is something called jam karet, “rubber time”. If the business partner is late because he happened to meet his brother on the street, this is considered to be more important than being on time. This has nothing to do with rudeness, but with the fact that things are valued differently in Indonesia. As far as your business partner is concerned, he can still get to his appointment; it’s just a lucky coincidence that he was about to meet his brother as well. Time and punctuality are secondary to the events of the day. It is first and foremost a question of ensuring that everyone makes the best possible use of his or her day’s opportunities.
If you come from a country known for its punctuality, you cannot plead “rubber time” as an excuse, because your reputation precedes you. Therefore, be punctual, but by no means over punctual. Only those who are unimportant show up for a meeting ahead of schedule!
The meeting begins when the host is present. Before that, you engage in small talk and talk about private things. Meetings in Indonesia are often the perfect opportunity to get to know each other better and to consolidate the relationship.
The host will finally open the meeting with a welcome address and a small thank-you to the head of the company and other important participants who are in the room. Indonesian companies are very hierarchically organized, so always keep in mind who has what to say.
In Indonesia, too, an agenda is used in business meetings, which is sent in advance by email. However, it is seen more as a rough guideline, which can occasionally be deviated from. People like to meander through conversations and discuss things as they come up.
As Indonesians communicate indirectly, information is not clearly and plainly stated. However, if a point is particularly relevant, it will be repeated several times. If you want Indonesians to grasp the importance of a concern, then you have no choice but to present the relevant points in context and to repeat them over and over again as well as to summarize them again at the end. This may seem strange to you, but to Indonesians, the number of repetitions shows the importance of a topic. If you want to make sure that your Indonesian partners understand everything, it is best to repeat it several times, but always in a different way.
Indonesians prefer a circular dialogue: topics are touched on, dropped and later taken up again. This is especially the case with important and difficult topics, which might lead to discord and a disturbance of harmony. As soon as things have been smoothed out, sensitive issues can be tackled again.
You should therefore not insist on sticking to your point of view. It is always better to either drop the sensitive subject quickly or change it. In a very open, heated, confrontational and argumentative discussion-based exclusively on facts, Indonesians will quickly feel cornered. They will feel that they have lost face and may break off the discussion.
Once you have explained your points of view, don’t expect any binding decisions to be made during the meeting. In Indonesia, everything takes time, especially until consensus is reached. There may even be five meetings, between which there will always be new phases of discussion. However, the actual decisions will be made in the background and then presented at a final meeting.
There’s no point in insisting on a decision during a meeting. You may even get one, but only because your Indonesian partners are afraid of open confrontation. However, any decision or commitment obtained in this way can be discarded immediately. Indonesians just don’t do business this way!
After a meeting has ended, however, you can summarize the most important points again and send the minutes to everyone by email – and thus trigger a follow-up meeting.