After being in business for 29 years and servicing 50+ cities around the world, we’ve picked up a few things when it comes to international business etiquette. Today let’s take a bite-sized look at what to keep in mind when doing business in China.
How To Do Business In China
Here are nine things to keep in mind when doing business in China.
Stock up on business cards
Business cards are exchanged freely and in almost all business situations in China. If you’re in China for a week and intend on meeting many new clients and associates, make sure you bring enough business cards. Having a hundred or so is not overkill.
Also make sure you handle your business cards with respect. When giving a business card, use both hands and offer it to your associate with the text facing up in their direction. When receiving a business card, do so again with both hands and inspect the card with interest and appreciation before stowing in carefully in your business card holder.
You might also consider getting business cards with Chinese translation on one side. You may not speak Chinese yourself but getting a translation sends a nice message of consideration for your associates and communicates your dedication to doing business in China.
Small talk first, business second
Business moves at a slower pace in China. Don’t enter a meeting expecting to rush straight into business talk. That is a grave faux pas. You want to begin meetings focusing on cultivating goodwill and strong relationships first by enjoying some friendly small talk.
It’s important to ensure that you talk about positive things. Avoid negative topics completely. Talking about what you’ve been enjoying in China is always a good idea. Here are a few topics of conversation that will be met with enthusiasm:
- Talk about the good food you’ve been enjoying in China.
- Talk about the wonderful weather you’ve been enjoying in China.
- Talk about the locations/hot spots you’ve visited in China and what you liked about them.
It shouldn’t be hard to find positive things to talk about. China is an amazing country with a rich culture and hospitable people. Spend some time exploring the country and you’ll have plenty of things to rave about.
Follow the leader
You can tell who has the highest rank by observing who enters the room first and who leads the conversation. Rank and age often go hand-in-hand so the leader is likely to be one of the oldest in the room.
Do not interrupt when the leader is talking. Also do not disagree with him or her. To do so is to damage their face or status and destroy any chance of an amiable business relationship.
Subtlety of expression is key
Tone down your elabroate Western gestures like waving your hands during explanations. You should also restrain what you may consider normal levels of enthusiasm in favour of a more low-key manner.
Subtlety of expression shows mastery of self in China. Speak softly and compress your message down as much as possible. A quiet and restrained manner will be met with great acceptance. It is also important to never show anger or irritation and you must remain relaxed at all times, even in high-pressure situations.
Meetings do not spawn quick results
In many Western companies, a majority vote is often enough to ensure that things proceed a certain way. In China, however, the company is much more likely to seek agreement and approval from everyone. This means compromise, lengthy discussions, and lots of patience as the company works towards a result that everyone is happy with. It’s important not to hurry things along. Go with the flow and your working relationships will be a lot smoother.
Negotiations continue even after a contract is signed
Bargaining is an integral part of Chinese culture and your Chinese business partners may continue to negotiate a deal even after you have come to agreement. This can come as a shock to many Westerners but rest assured that it is completely normal in China. Keeping this in mind will be helpful when you structure your initial proposals.
You certainly shouldn’t expect your first offer to be your final one. Your first offer is just a yardstick and will be used to kick off lengthy and extensive negotiations. Make sure you leave room to compromise.
You will rarely hear a flat “no” when dealing with Chinese business partners. Directness is considered too blunt and more subtle approaches are considered elegant and favourable.
Instead of “no”, you are more likely to hear variations of the following:
- “That might be difficult.”
- “We will have to think about it.”
- “I will have to consult with my partners.”
You should model this same indirect approach when doing business in China. Chinese are masters at understanding what is unsaid so you can rest assured that your meaning will be understood and your indirect approach will be appreciated.
Keep face in mind
Face is a sociological concept that basically means “status”. One’s face will increase as they age and as their accomplishments increase. Your face can also increase when others give you compliments. Likewise, you can boost others’ face by giving them compliments too. Arguments, anger, and failure results in a loss of face.
Armed with this knowledge, you should pay particular attention to ensuring that you build up your Chinese business asscoiates’ face by giving sincere compliments and praise. China is a collectivist culture, which means the good of the many is greater than that of the individual, so make sure you pay more attention to praising the company as a whole rather than any one individual.
Enjoy your time in China and relish the relationships you build
China is a fascinating culture and the people are among the most hospitable in the entire world. A trip to China is likely to be an unforgettable memory that you will cherish for life. Make sure you get the most out of it but creating many relationships, visiting many places, and throwing yourself into the culture as much as possible. You will be rewarded.
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