Cultural Faux Pas To Avoid
For Chinese people everywhere, eight is the lucky number. It’s no accident that the Beijing Olympics started on 8/8/2008. So here are the eight big things you need to know.
1. Build trust – gradually
Chinese people need to feel comfortable with the person they are dealing with, so they’ll want to get to know you before they talk turkey. It can take some time, but once you’ve earned their trust it will take you a long way.
2. Use go-betweens
Chinese people don’t feel comfortable dealing with strangers, so use a go-between to make your approach. The right person can smooth your path and help sort out any glitches along the way.
Get good interpreters too, even if you’re on your home ground. Bargaining is difficult in English because the style is so different, but easy in Chinese.
Try to have at least two interpreters, one to do the talking on your behalf and another one to whisper everything in your ear as negotiations goes along. The pause between listening and speaking can also give you valuable time to think.
3. Aim for the top
Before you arrive, arrange to meet the highest-ranking official you can. If you’ve met, say, the Governor of the province where you’re hoping to do deals, you’ll carry a huge stamp of approval.
If you’re receiving Chinese visitors in Australia, see if you can get local politicians to come to the reception to show that you have respect and the backing of people higher up the scale.
4. Build connections
If there’s one word you’re really need to know, it’s “guanxi”, or “connections”. This is the web of family and personal ties that bind groups together. By doing business with a company, you’ll become part of that web too.
As long as you behave in ways that maintain trust, it will gradually give you access to a whole network of people and opportunities.
5. Show respect
Good manners may mean behaving in a style that by Australian standards seems quite formal. Don’t expect a Chinese business person to call you by your first name, and don’t do it to them either.
Use their title if you can – Chairman Wang, Director Lee, Manager Kwan – or at least a simple Mister or Madam. If you can’t remember their surname, their title by itself will do just fine.
That little bit of extra respect will earn you some respect in return.
6. Show you’re not alone
Don’t be afraid to travel with your whole team with you, when you receive visitors. A large delegation says something about your own importance, and about the importance you attach to this negotiation.
7. Make it personal
When you exchange business cards, sign yours on the back before presenting it, and ask your Chinese counterpart to do the same. This gives a more seriousness to the occasion and will be valued by Chinese business people.
8. Never make someone lose face
If you’re Chinese, it’s important to maintain “face”. This means behaving, and being treated, in a way that preserves your status in public. So don’t expect a Chinese person to show their feelings – it’s an insurance policy in case things don’t work out.
You never know, that person in front of you may be a fun guy who has taken a huge gamble by suggesting their company deal with you. He risks losing face within his group if it all goes wrong. But if you show proper respect throughout, at least everyone will be able to retreat with their status intact.