The Chinese have a very systematic meeting etiquette that focuses around one main concept. This main component is called “face” and it can be described as a mix of respect and reputation. The Chinese value their reputation and track record in business. They also do not like awkward and uncomfortable situations for themselves or their guests. These situations are to be avoided at all costs as they jeopardize the reputation or “face” of both parties. In China, there are also many customs that are very different from those in Japan or the Western world. In the content below, you will find many useful tips for Chinese business etiquette that can really help take you through your first few ventures into China.
Chinese Business Meeting Etiquette
The first thing to consider when traveling to China for business is making an appointment far enough in advance. The Chinese host will expect an appointment at least 2 months in advance unless they otherwise specify. The main purpose of this is that gives the Chinese host time to prepare for the meeting, in just the same way that you are. It is advisable to let your Chinese counterparts know what your objectives are in meeting with them in advance as well. This allows for both parties to be more prepared for the meeting. Once a meeting date is set, be sure to confirm the date in writing.
When arriving to a business meeting with your Chinese counterpart, you should always be slightly early. This is seen almost as a compliment, and it helps to develop “face” on your behalf. Showing up late is something to avoid at all costs because it is seen as disrespectful and can damage your reputation in many cases.
When the time comes for introductions, refer to the groups participants by their honorific title and then their surname. This procedure should be followed unless your Chinese host otherwise specifies. In many cases, they will ask you to refer to them on a first name basis.
A very important thing to understand about Chinese business etiquette, as well as Chinese Etiquette in general, is that their customs are very different from those in the Western world. They are actually different from those in other Asian countries such as Japan. These cultural differences can be striking when first seen, but must be honored and not interrupted. For example, the Chinese will talk noisily on their cell phones during a meeting (after excusing themselves) as well as during other social interactions. This is not to be discouraged, as it will cause both parties to lose “face”. This behavior is typical in Chinese business etiquette. There are other things that will come across as crude in Western eyes such as the Chinese dining etiquette, in which belching and slurping is not seen as inappropriate. Regardless of the scenario, try to politely ignore anything that bothers you, as it is not intended to offend you.
When discussing anything technical, you must have translated documents and an interpreter. These aids are expected, and you are responsible for bringing your own assistants for translation. Make sure that your documents are translated accurately. Take special care in making sure that they are translated by a professional translator with experience in business/technical document translation. Using a freelance translator can be very risky, especially if they are not proof reading the documents. A professional translator like Japan Printing and Graphics will be able to provide you with consultation on the proper dialect of Chinese that you are needing, as well as consultation on proper Chinese business card etiquette. Your translated documents should include Chinese business cards with Chinese on one side and English on the other.
Chinese business meetings can go slow or fast. There is no real trend with regard to the duration of a meeting. However, the meetings that do go slowly will likely go very slow. Be patient and don’t feel awkward if there are brief to moderate moments of silence during a meeting. These pauses are normal and allow your Chinese host to really absorb what is transpiring during the meeting. Do not let periods of silence intimidate you or make you feel like you are doing something wrong.
During negotiations, make sure that the most senior person in your group is the speaker. Your Chinese counterpart will do the same. In many cases, the topic of the meeting will develop very slowly, and may not be discussed right away. This doesn’t mean anything bad, the Chinese are just used to meetings that develop slowly. As mentioned earlier, the Chinese avoid awkward situations and are generally non confrontational. They will not always tell you “No” directly. They might say, “we will consider it” as an alternative to “No”. Keep this in mind when gauging your progress in a meeting. Perhaps the most important thing to do is keep you cool. Never show any type of frustration or anger to anyone during a meeting. Not even your own associate. This is the ultimate sign of disrespect to the Chinese during business.
Finally, you should not be disappointed if a conclusion isn’t reached during a meeting. This usually means that the parties involved in the business meeting are not the ultimate decision maker. So again, be patient and focus on keeping a positive reputation and keeping “face” with your Chinese host.