Work in Japan Advice Board
With a population of over a billion and the economy to match, China is on the mind of pretty much every business owner looking to expand internationally. Yet, China is a sprawling country with a deep-seated culture and multiple languages, and can be a confounding market to enter. However, the rewards of tapping into the Chinese business world are big. Even just a little bit of background research can go a long way in making a business transaction go more smoothly. With that said, a quick primer is a good place to start:
Points Worth Understanding:
• Chinese culture operates under a Confucian philosophy that puts group harmony above the individual.
• Always be sensitive to a Chinese person’s rank or status in relation to the group. An individual’s honor and reputation is connected to this status, especially in the workplace. Be aware of and respect this.
• Business is a formal affair in China, to be conducted politely, modestly, and with patience.
• Show respect to your Chinese counterparts by maintaining a serious demeanor when conducting business in regards to how you dress, speak, hold yourself, and interact.
• Business is mostly relationship-based in China, so it pays to do what you can to know people and to get to know people.
• Demonstrating that you are dependable and reliable will reap benefits in cementing business relationships in China.
• Before scheduling a meeting, make contact in writing first and send information about your company for them to look over. In the meantime, learn as much as you can about the business and its employees before meeting with them—they will have done research on you.
• Send a meeting agenda ahead of time; start with the main issue to be discussed and then deal with supplemental issues.
• Be early. Arriving late to a meeting is considered rude and will reflect poorly on you and your company.
• Seniority and authority among staff will be demonstrated through the order that they enter into the room. The highest-ranking staff person will enter first. Have your team do the same. And introduce yourself to the highest-ranking person first.
• Exchange business cards and have one side translated into Chinese. Put any business card you receive carefully in a card case to show respect to its owner.
• The most senior person at the meeting may do most of the talking; this will be expected of your team as well.
• In negotiations, it is very important to have some give and take as there needs to be a sense that common ground has been met. This is a significant part of the negotiation process in China.
• Decisions are not usually made during meetings, but instead deliberation happens afterward. This can mean that even a few small steps forward in a partnership can take a long time.
• It is fine to greet with a handshake—this is the common greeting in business in China with non-Chinese. You may add a small head bow as well but don’t overdo it.
• Touching while communicating is not common in business dealings in China.
• Your body posture will be seen as a reflection of your personal level of self-control. Be aware of how you are holding and carrying yourself.
More to Keep in Mind:
• If you receive a gift from a Chinese business colleague, a return gift will be expected. Come prepared with some regional specialty from your home. Make sure it’s gift-wrapped. (Avoid giving clocks, handkerchiefs or umbrellas as they’re symbolic of sadness or death.)
• Address your Chinese counterparts by their family names and their titles. Let them address you the same way, as this is what they will be most comfortable with.
• It can take a while to build trust and a good working relationship in China. Work to cultivate and foster any business relationship by staying in good contact in between meetings.
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