China is fast becoming one of the most attractive business prospects for British companies thanks to its large population, fast growing consumer market, and strong forecasts for valuable sectors like luxury goods.
But it takes time and effort to really get to grips with a new language and culture and China is a particularly complex beast in this regard. While there aren’t really any shortcuts, the rewards you and your business will see when you do make the effort will be plentiful. When you understand the culture and even a few words of the language of your new colleagues, negotiations will become easier and your chances of success can increase.
To this end, Bubbles has put together a quick guide to business etiquette in China. Whether you’re heading to China yourself or you’re pulling together new communications for a team working in the region, it’s worth a read to guide you towards the essentials.
As in most cultures, first impressions count for a lot, so before negotiations can begin, you must greet your Chinese counterparts appropriately.
Nodding and smiling are common and acceptable greetings at the start of any meeting, and will often precede a handshake (which you should allow your Chinese host to initiate).
After introducing yourself, an act commonly done using your title and last name (think Mr Smith not David Smith), you may have an opportunity to impress using short Chinese greetings.
Common greetings in the meeting environment include ‘hěn gāoxìng rènshí nǐ’, which means ‘nice to meet you’, and ‘jiǔyǎng’ – ‘I`ve long been looking forward to meeting you’. The latter is a particularly formal option, signalling a very professional, humble demeanour – something to be aware of with your new hosts.
Unsurprisingly, Chinese business partners usually appreciate it when their foreign guests make the effort to speak a little Chinese.
Once again, this requires careful research to ensure the words you use are both accurately translated and appropriate for the situation. For example, many Chinese business people will appreciate positive comments about their country and culture, but will want to avoid political topics in a formal business setting.
This approach is also evident in their marketing and written communications. So if you’re emailing a team in China, be careful with what you choose to include as small talk; likewise any advertising campaigns in the region should look to steer clear of controversy.
A final note on that face-to-face meeting: alongside your word choice, don’t forget that body language is another tool at your disposal when orchestrating a successful business deal. Staying visibly calm and collected is a good place to begin, but maintaining an air of formality and attentiveness will also help to demonstrate respect for your potential Chinese business partners and give you the edge.
Business people from around the world have their own methods of conducting themselves in the work environment, and China is no exception. Unlike in the UK, where business meetings are beginning to lean towards the sharing of digital materials, many businesses in China expect physical copies of any material to be provided to everyone in the room.
Environmentally questionable yes, but on the plus side this approach does tend to reflect an increased awareness of the formality of the occasion, keeping everyone focused on the matter at hand.
This concept of respecting formalities is evident in nearly every area of business in China. Anyone seeking to work with Chinese companies should be prepared to establish a strong relationship through multiple meetings before they have any chance of a contract being signed.
Don’t forget to maintain composure and avoid showing emotion throughout the course of these meetings; it’s strictly business here.
The opportunities in China are vast, but so too are the differences in culture, attitude and of course, language. There are no short cuts to successful business in China; it’s about knowing and understanding your audience and communicating with them on their own terms.
On a personal level, this comes down to adapting your behaviour and approach. From a broader perspective, it’s worth employing a professional translation service to translate your business materials.
Bubbles Translation Services has professional Chinese translators with first-hand, native experience of the language and culture. Our attention to detail and experience will ensure that your message is accurately translated to your new Chinese partners and colleagues.
Read our broader Guide to Global Business Etiquette here.