Strategic market changes coupled with a series of smart government reforms and a solid economic expansion have turned China into the world’s second-largest economy and an attractive destination to do business. Numerous western companies, from Volkswagen and Boeing to Starbucks and Procter & Gamble have already expanded their presence in the country. Small businesses are also seeing the opportunities and thinking about (or are in the process of) entering the Chinese market.
But, in spite of China’s increasing influence in the western world, those looking to do business in the country still face a variety of cultural challenges. While you could use platforms like Preply.com to pick up a few idioms and speak with native speakers, the etiquette behind the language is just as essential.
Here are a few tips that you should keep in mind when doing business in China.
Always Show Respect
Unlike western countries, where your skills and abilities weigh more than your position, Chinese business people place great importance on ranks and leadership. As such, when you enter a room, you should do it in order of seniority. Make sure that the person with the highest rank in your team is the one greeting the Chinese delegation and making the appropriate introductions.
Handshakes are common in China, but you should wait for your counterpart to initiate the gesture. Keep in mind that handshakes in China are soft and short as opposed to vigorous. Make eye contact with the Chinese counterpart when you greet him or her, but make sure to keep it brief. Chinese people perceive prolonged eye contact as a challenge, and that’s the last thing you want to communicate while trying to seal a deal and do business in the country.
Another important rule that you should note is that you should always address people with a title followed by their last name. Don’t call your counterpart “comrade.”
Master the Art of Conversation
Don’t get surprised if they Chinese delegation is going to ask you about what you’ve eaten or your whereabouts. These are just common courtesies in China, and the equivalent of “How are you” in the West. However, if your Chinese counterpart asks you if you’ve eaten, don’t take the question literally and start getting into details. A simple “yes, thank you” is more than enough.
Try to avoid sensitive topics, such as Tibet, the Cultural Revolution, human rights, and so on. Stick with talking about art, the landmarks, the geography, and other general topics.
Remember that Chinese people dislike strong negative statements. So, instead of a blunt no, tell them that you’ll think about their offer.
Make New Business Cards
If you want the negotiations to be successful, then you should make sure that your business cards have Mandarin on one side and English on the other. Present the card with two hands with the Chinese part facing the other person. Receive a card with two hands as well, but don’t place it in your pocket immediately. Study it for a few seconds, then put it into a business card holder. Chinese people see business cards as an extension of their persona, so you should handle them respectfully if you want to receive the same treatment.
Chinese people don’t rush into business deals and like to take their time to get to know you and build trust before signing a contract. Expect to be invited to long dinner parties with courses you’ve probably never heard before. Make sure to try everything regardless of how odd or unappealing it may look. Otherwise, your counterpart may see this as a sign of disrespect.
Expanding your business to a new market, especially one that is fundamentally different than yours, can be a challenge. But, if you go prepared and show your potential business partners that you are willing to understand their culture and respect their ways, you have a high chance of success.