China is an economic giant that can’t be ignored, for that reason, many people are keen to break into the Chinese market. China is, however, very different to the West. Doing business here is not plain sailing if you don’t understand the many differences in business style and social etiquette.
Modern business practices have emerged as China has opened up more to the world, but centuries-old traditions and customs still inform the work culture. Trust is key to business in China, but it can only be built if you show absolute respect.
Initial greetings tend to be quite formal and you’ll be introduced to the most senior person first. Business cards are considered extremely important. After that initial handshake you should present yours to your host, holding it out with both hands as though you were offering them a present. Remember that diving straight into business is considered rude, so begin with small talk and presenting gifts to break the ice.
You also need to be aware of the concept of mianzi – roughly translated as ‘face’. ‘Saving face’ is very important to Chinese people, particularly in the workplace. You need to do everything you can to avoid embarrassing someone or making them feel small. Flatter them and show them respect, but without the humiliation of being patronising.
Socialising is a very big part of Chinese business culture, so expect to be taken out for dinners by your host. Extravagant meals are part and parcel of business in China, and that can give the false impression that business dealings are unstructured. Far from it. There are customs beneath the surface, such as being considered an honoured guest if you’re seated beside the most senior figure. Just remember that - in a show of generosity - too much food will be ordered and it’s polite to leave some on your plate and tell them how full you are.
China is a society underpinned by hierarchy, and that extends to companies. Those at the top of the tree expect to be shown honour and deference at all times, and often don’t really care about what others think of them. Show deep humility and respect when addressing and doing business with them.
In general, if you build trust, take an interest in their culture and abide by these rules of etiquette, the Chinese are a fantastic, welcoming people to do business with.
Always present business cards
Don’t dive straight into business talk
Remember the concept of mianzi
Expect lavish business dinners
Show respect to the hierarchy