Country specific communication
Working successfully with the Chinese means understanding the complex networking system that governs all business deals and the idea of ‘face’, which is central to the Chinese mindset. There is no point trying to impose Western values and methods in China. To get along there, the visitor must embrace Chinese culture and learn to understand the system in such areas as meeting protocol, etiquette, listening styles and argumentation styles in order to maximise the potential of their business trip.
Winning the respect of the Chinese is one of the most important factors in making a good impression and building relationships. Building a friendship has to come before business can be done; trust has to exist before a deal can be made. To achieve an understanding of what makes the Chinese mind tick and how to get a job done, you must accept hospitality by joining in with events such as drinking sessions and dinners. Another important point: try not make a Chinese person lose face by discussing topics such as human rights issues or the growing capitalist culture in Chinese cities. This may affect your business deal because Chinese people are very sensitive and may feel insulted.
China is known as a culture of etiquette and ceremonies. There are some important things you should know during a business meal or meeting. The Chinese prefer to entertain in public places rather than in their homes, especially when entertaining foreigners. If you are invited to a home, consider it a great honour. Make sure you always arrive on time or early if you are the guest. Business meals with the Chinese are a way to connect with your clients. Bring a small gift to the hostess (e.g. pens or souvenirs).
- The guest of honour will be given a seat facing the door,
- The host starts eating first,
- Do not be offended if a Chinese person makes slurping or belching sounds; it merely indicates that they are enjoying their food,
- Do not start to eat or drink prior to the host and you should taste all the dishes you are offered as a cultural courtesy,
- The Chinese do not discuss business at meals,
- It is perfectly acceptable to ask for knives and forks although only a spoon may be available,
- Table manners are more relaxed in China than in the west, but follow the example of others at the table for your own comfort.
- Try not to use large hand movements; the Chinese do not speak with their hands,
- Try to avoid physical contact. It is highly inappropriate for a man to touch a woman in public,
- Do not use your finger to point; use an open palm.
Punctuality is vital in China. Lateness gives an impression of disinterest. Bowing or nodding is the common greeting, however you may be offered a handshake. Wait for the Chinese to offer their hand first. Introductions are formal, so use formal titles. Chinese people often use nicknames to assist Westerners. Make sure you bring several copies of all written documents to your meetings. Never lose sight of the fact that communication is official, especially when dealing with someone of a higher rank. Treating them too informally, especially in front of their peers, may well ruin a potential deal. During the decision process you must be patient; the decision-making process is slow. You should not expect to conclude your business quickly. Do not rush the deal; many Chinese want to consult before they make a decision. At the end of the meeting you may present or receive a business card which should be carried in a small card case. Finally, allow the Chinese to leave the meeting room first.
The Chinese are brought up in a group-oriented culture, making it natural for them to negotiate in groups. When a Chinese negotiation team enters the room expect them to enter in hierarchical order; the most senior person will take the lead and will speak throughout the meeting. He or she is not to be contradicted by other members of the team while speaking. The same is expected of the opposing party. There is one spokesperson, who is also not to be contradicted during the meeting. Shake hands when introduced. Eye contact and a slight bow of the head are appreciated. The first greeting should be directed to the most senior person of the opposite group; line up your group, also by seniority, so that it is clear how everyone fits into the business. One-to-one meetings are somewhat unusual in China; it is very common to meet as a delegation. The Chinese will form a team for a meeting equal in numbers to their counterparts.
Contracts, legal concepts
Making contact and negotiating with Chinese partners requires a good deal of patience, thoroughness and tact. The Chinese are reliable, but hard and tough negotiators but everything is possible in China if you are willing to work for it.
The Chinese are charmed by a vague contract that they can adjust later. Contracts should be approved by a number of other important people or organizations before being given the green light. It could take months or even years before a contract is established; the person one negotiates with is rarely the one with final authorisation.
Communication is often a problem because of the language. To avoid misunderstanding it is recommended to use an interpreter who understands Chinese culture. Write down what is said during a meeting and thank the other party for their attention, time and opinions. Do not expect a quick decision; closing a deal could take many rounds of negotiations. The final decision on a proposal will probably be made at a private meeting behind closed doors and returned to the negotiating table later.
Authors: Khadija Amhaouach, Melanie van Engel & Jeffrey Vogel