Doing international business is a tricky affair. Many times, it feels like the cultural barrier is the bulk of the problem, rather than negotiating the business deal itself. That is why reading up on the culture of your potential business partners and clients is crucial, to say the least.
Chinese people and speakers make up a huge market of the world. Thus, it is no surprise that people are scrambling to learn Chinese and pick up knowledge about Chinese culture. You can do so by enrolling in a Business Chinese class, some of which are available in the form of an online Mandarin course.
But before you get to that, perhaps a quick introduction to Chinese business etiquette will be helpful to you.
In Chinese culture, greetings are commonly performed by smiling and nodding. In business meetings, shaking hands is also expected. Usually, you’ll want to wait to be initiated a handshake by your Chinese counterparts.
As you greet your Chinese counterparts, you can say something like ‘nice to meet you’ in Chinese. This is a good way to show them that you’ve made the effort to learn some of their language, and make a good first impression.
2. Address using surnames and titles
One thing that trips most Chinese learners up is how Chinese names are ‘reversed’. In the full name, their last name comes first, followed by their given name.
In a business setting, you’ll typically be expected to address your business partners with their title and surname. For example, ‘Manager Li’, or ‘Professor Chen’. If unsure about exact job titles, you can also politely address them with Mr or Ms in Chinese.
3. Exchange pleasantries
Relationship-building is a big part of doing business with the Chinese. Most Chinese businessmen don’t jump straight into the topic of the meeting, but rather, engage in some small talk before diving into business. A common greeting is ‘Have you eaten?’ which is often asked out of courtesy, much like how people say ‘How are you?’ in the west.
So, be prepared to chat a little about the weather, travel, scenery, and food. Dishing out praises of your host country is also most welcome. However, steer clear of sensitive topics like politics, religion, and controversial philosophies.
4. Save face
The concept of ‘face’ permeates Chinese culture, and is super important to be aware of. This entails things like not putting others on the spot, and being careful with rejections. For example, Chinese people find saying ‘no’ quite impolite, and would rather soften the rejection with phrases like ‘I’ll think about it’ or ‘We’ll see how it goes’.
Another situation you might encounter is when your Chinese counterparts heap praise onto you – in Chinese culture, it is rude or prideful to accept these compliments. Instead, they often dismiss and wave the compliments away with words of humility like ‘That’s not so’ or ‘You’re exaggerating’.
5. Pay attention to hierarchy
Chinese people are quite sensitive to social status, as they believe that superiors should be given due respect, and everyone has their roles to play. So, you might notice that Chinese businessmen typically enter a room in order of hierarchy, from the highest-ranking to the lowest rank. In the same way, the most superior will eat first at the dinner table, before the juniors can begin to eat.
If you’re attending a business meeting hosted by your Chinese counterparts, make it a point to be sensitive to these – ask where you should be seated, and follow the hierarchy when entering the room. After the meeting has ended, it is only polite to wait for your hosts to stand up and leave first before making your move.
6. Be mindful of their gift culture
Giving gifts in Chinese cultures is a tricky thing. Some businessmen may see expensive gifts as bribes, but too-cheap gifts will also be deemed disrespectful. Usually, a safe bet is to go with something that’s not too extravagant, but meaningful.
However, some things are complete no-nos in Chinese gift-giving. Things like watches, clocks, chrysanthemums, and sharp objects are considered inauspicious, and will be seen as extremely offensive as gifts.
Ultimately, knowing basic Chinese business etiquette is a great way to show your Chinese counterparts and clients that you are willing to put in the effort to build a strong working relationship by minimising potential misgivings. There’s so much more to see and learn – why not sign up for a Mandarin course to equip yourself further?