Business Etiquette and Protocol in China
Relationships & Communication
. The Chinese don't like doing business with companies they don't know, so working through an intermediary is crucial. This could be an individual or an organization who can make a formal introduction and vouch for the reliability of your company.
. Before arriving in China send materials (written in Chinese) that describe your company, its history, and literature about your products and services. The Chinese often use intermediaries to ask questions that they would prefer not to make directly.
. Business relationships are built formally after the Chinese get to know you.
. Be very patient. It takes a considerable amount of time and is bound up with enormous bureaucracy.
. The Chinese see foreigners as representatives of their company rather than as individuals.
. Rank is extremely important in business relationships and you must keep rank differences in mind when communicating.
. Gender bias is nonexistent in business.
. Never lose sight of the fact that communication is official, especially in dealing with someone of higher rank. Treating them too informally, especially in front of their peers, may well ruin a potential deal.
. The Chinese prefer face-to-face meetings rather than written or telephonic communication.
. Meals and social events are not the place for business discussions. There is a demarcation between business and socializing in China, so try to be careful not to intertwine the two.
Business Meeting Etiquette
. Appointments are necessary and, if possible, should be made between one-to-two months in advance, preferably in writing.
. If you do not have a contact within the company, use an intermediary to arrange a formal introduction. Once the introduction has been made, you should provide the company with information about your company and what you want to accomplish at the meeting.
. You should arrive at meetings on time or slightly early. The Chinese view punctuality as a virtue. Arriving late is an insult and could negatively affect your relationship
. Pay great attention to the agenda as each Chinese participant has his or her own agenda that they will attempt to introduce.
. Send an agenda before the meeting so your Chinese colleagues have the chance to meet with any technical experts prior to the meeting. Discuss the agenda with your translator/intermediary prior to submission.
. Each participant will take an opportunity to dominate the floor for lengthy periods without appearing to say very much of anything that actually contributes to the meeting. Be patient and listen. There could be subtle messages being transmitted that would assist you in allaying fears of on-going association.
. Meetings require patience. Mobile phones ring frequently and conversations tend to be boisterous. Never ask the Chinese to turn off their mobile phones as this causes you both to lose face.
. Guests are generally escorted to their seats, which are in descending order of rank. Senior people generally sit opposite senior people from the other side.
. It is imperative that you bring your own interpreter, especially if you plan to discuss legal or extremely technical concepts as you can brief the interpreter prior to the meeting.
. Written material should be available in both English and Chinese, using simplified characters. Be very careful about what is written. Make absolutely certain that written translations are accurate and cannot be misinterpreted.
. Visual aids are useful in large meetings and should only be done with black type on white background. Colours have special meanings and if you are not careful, your colour choice could work against you.
. Presentations should be detailed and factual and focus on long-term benefits. Be prepared for the presentation to be a challenge.
. Only senior members of the negotiating team will speak. Designate the most senior person in your group as your spokesman for the introductory functions.
. Business negotiations occur at a slow pace.
. Be prepared for the agenda to become a jumping off point for other discussions.
. Chinese are non-confrontational. They will not overtly say 'no', they will say 'they will think about it' or 'they will see'.
. Chinese negotiations are process oriented. They want to determine if relationships can develop to a stage where both parties are comfortable doing business with the other.
. Decisions may take a long time, as they require careful review and consideration.
. Under no circumstances should you lose your temper or you will lose face and irrevocably damage your relationship.
. Do not use high-pressure tactics. You might find yourself outmanoeuvred.
. Business is hierarchical. Decisions are unlikely to be made during the meetings you attend.
. The Chinese are shrewd negotiators.
. Your starting price should leave room for negotiation.
What to Wear?
. Business attire is conservative and unpretentious.
. Men should wear dark coloured, conservative business suits.
. Women should wear conservative business suits or dresses with a high neckline.
. Women should wear flat shoes or shoes with very low heels.
. Bright colours should be avoided.
. Business cards are exchanged after the initial introduction.
. Have one side of your business card translated into Chinese using simplified Chinese characters that are printed in gold ink since gold is an auspicious colour.
. Your business card should include your title. If your company is the oldest or largest in your country, that fact should be on your card as well.
. Hold the card in both hands when offering it, Chinese side facing the recipient.
. Examine a business card before putting it on the table next to you or in a business card case.
. Never write on someone's card unless so directed.