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Cultural Considerations in Business

Discover how cultural norms impact business and employment in Fiji

Communication styles in the workplace

In the Fijian workplace, understanding communication styles is crucial for effective navigation.


Fijian culture emphasizes maintaining social harmony and avoiding confrontation, often leading to an indirect communication style. Messages may be veiled in metaphors, stories, or jokes. Building relationships is paramount, and direct criticism might be subtly delivered through a trusted colleague or humor. A traditional Fijian way of requesting something, known as "Volavola," involves a formal presentation of a gift (often kava) and a veiled explanation of the request.


Respectful communication is common in the Fijian workplace, with the use of honorific titles like "Sir" or "Madam" especially when addressing superiors. Formality can vary depending on the situation and relationship between colleagues. It's generally more formal with superiors and relaxes with familiarity. Meetings can involve a lot of socializing and establishing rapport before diving into business discussions.

Non-Verbal Cues

Non-verbal cues play a significant role in Fijian communication. Eye contact may be limited as a sign of respect, and silence is often used for contemplation rather than indicating disagreement. Head nodding might not necessarily mean agreement, but rather that the speaker is heard and understood. Research suggests that Fijians rely more on non-verbal cues than verbals for emotional expression.

Negotiation practices

Negotiation in Fiji is a nuanced dance influenced by cultural norms and traditional practices. The approaches, strategies, and cultural influences that shape Fijian business dealings are unique and deeply rooted in the community.

Building Relationships (Vanua)

The concept of "Vanua" (community) is central to Fijian negotiation. Building trust and rapport is the foundation for successful negotiation. This can involve social gatherings and shared experiences before diving into business discussions.

Cultural References

The Fijian term "Talanoa" refers to a form of storytelling and dialogue used to share ideas and build consensus. This collaborative approach is reflected in negotiation styles.

Indirect Communication

Similar to everyday communication, Fijian negotiators often favor indirect communication. They may express concerns subtly or avoid directly stating their bottom line.

Exchange of Gifts

The presentation of a gift (often kava) can be a prelude to negotiation, symbolizing respect and paving the way for a positive discussion.


Fijian society is collectivistic, prioritizing group harmony over individual gain. Negotiators may seek solutions that benefit all parties involved.

Respect for Hierarchy

Respect for elders and authority figures is deeply ingrained in Fijian culture. Negotiations may involve deference to senior members and a more consensus-driven approach.

Case Study: Fiji versus FIJI Water

The case of "Fiji versus FIJI Water" highlights the interplay of cultural norms and negotiation tactics. The government's proposed water extraction tax increase, seen as discriminatory by FIJI Water, was ultimately resolved through dialogue and compromise.

Understanding hierarchical structures

Fijian businesses often operate with well-defined hierarchical structures. Understanding these structures and their cultural underpinnings is essential for fostering effective working relationships.

Prevalent Structures

Fijian businesses, particularly larger companies, have tall hierarchical structures with clear lines of authority. Decisions flow from top to bottom. Important decisions are typically made by senior management, with less emphasis on employee participation in the lower ranks. Fijian society emphasizes respect for authority figures, reflected in hierarchical business structures.

Impact on Work Dynamics

The hierarchical structure can limit upward communication, with employees hesitant to directly challenge or offer suggestions to superiors. Employees may prioritize following instructions from superiors over taking initiative or offering innovative solutions. This aligns with Weber's theory of bureaucracy, where clear hierarchies and formalized rules govern decision-making.

Leadership Styles

Fijian leaders often prioritize building relationships with their teams and fostering a sense of community within the organization. While decision-making might be centralized, there's potential for a more collaborative approach within teams, influenced by the concept of "Vanua" (community). Leaders may use indirect communication to deliver feedback or criticism, maintaining social harmony.

Moving Forward

Understanding these hierarchical structures allows for more effective interaction within Fijian businesses. Here are some tips:

  • Demonstrate respect for authority figures through communication and actions.
  • Invest time in building relationships with colleagues at all levels.
  • Ensure clear and consistent communication from both superiors and subordinates, even if upward communication is more limited.

Holidays and observances affecting business operations

Fiji is known for its vibrant cultural calendar, which includes numerous holidays and observances that can impact business operations. Understanding these key holidays can be beneficial when planning business activities.

Statutory Holidays

  • New Year's Day (1st January): This nationwide public holiday celebrates the start of the new year.
  • Good Friday and Easter Monday: These Christian holidays, which commemorate Easter, are public holidays.
  • Prophet Muhammad's Birthday: This public holiday is observed by Fiji's Muslim community.
  • National Day (1st October): This public holiday celebrates Fijian independence.
  • Christmas Day (25th December) and Boxing Day (26th December): These public holidays mark the Christmas celebrations.

These statutory holidays are outlined in the Employment Relations Act 2007.

Regional Observances

  • Hindi Day (14th February): This cultural celebration is observed by the Indo-Fijian community and may lead to localized business closures.
  • Diwali (Varies): The Hindu Festival of Lights is a significant observance for the Indo-Fijian community and may impact business hours in certain areas.
  • Easter Weekend: While Good Friday and Easter Monday are national holidays, businesses in areas with a large Christian population may also observe Holy Thursday and Easter Tuesday.

Impact on Business Operations

  • Reduced Work Schedules: Businesses may close or reduce operations during public holidays and major observances.
  • Advance Planning: It's advisable to schedule important meetings and deadlines outside of holiday periods to ensure a smooth workflow.

It's also important to respect cultural sensitivities around religious holidays. Business activities may be subdued during these times.

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