Franchising in Singapore
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Franchising in Singapore




Strategic Chessboard Approach to Interactions


When interacting with Singaporeans, it is vital to know their network of stakeholders. Imagine a chessboard and the strategy involved in maneuvering through multiple players in shifting positions: Which player has the most power? What influence might another have? How might other players perceive my move? Almost like calculating chess players, Singaporeans continually mentally assess the total formula in their surroundings; this assessment drives communication and other required protocol that facilitate their aims and interactions.

Knowing a Singaporean's "Chessboard", i.e., which networks one is part of and influenced by, whom one is concerned about showing good 'face' before, and who one strives to be in favor with, therefore, is crucial.

This relational, chessboard approach often confuses non-Singaporeans who feel they "do not know where they stand" nor do they feel the need to consider others outside their immediate circle of concern. They may be frustrated by the relatively slower method of getting on with things, as more time is required for assessing track records of players and gaining information for anticipating moves. The time element makes this approach even more difficult for short-term business visitors to grasp.


Singaporeans value stability, order, and predictability, and generally require time, trusted players and much information before venturing to take a risk. This strategic chessboard approach enables Singaporeans to feel more secure in their interactions. The up-front assessment and heightened awareness provides a safety net of data so that loss of face and risk can be lessened, and potential conflicts averted.

This ability probably began as a survival skill in Singapore's early days as a cosmopolitan trading port. Strategic assessment of others' trustworthiness and affiliations proved vital for one's success. Today's national emphasis placed on being #1 reinforces this need.

So What:

Singaporeans' initial reserve or reticence at group meetings should not be misperceived as lack of engagement. Most likely they are building a context and assessing the chessboard, so they can know the players, how to move among them and how to contribute appropriately. Diving into an interaction too fast is interpreted as reckless and arrogant.

One should be aware of the chessboard of key roles and relationships to prevent mis-appointing staff or cultivating inappropriate contacts, which can make non-Singaporeans appear less-than-able decision makers as well as clueless negotiators.

To Learn More:

Read Singaporeans Exposed: Navigating the Ins and Outs of Globalisation, 2001, Singapore ISBN: 9813065559 by Tan Chi Chiu;
Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew: The Singapore Story (Abridged Edition), Lee Kuan Yew, Prentice Hall; 1st edition (June 15, 1999)

By Kathleen A. Curran, intercultural coach, consultant and trainer, based in Singapore and Houston, TX. She specializes in intercultural strategy and global leadership development and can be reached at

Gary M. Wederspahn, a leading intercultural business consultant, speaker, and writer. His new book, Intercultural Services: A Worldwide Buyer's Guide and Sourcebook, is available from Butterworth Heinemann publishing company and from

Published: August 29th, 2003

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