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How to behave in business with the Chinese?
A surprisingly delicate and complex question - what are the principles of Eastern etiquette in business communication with the Chinese? After all, in essence, this is a whole life philosophy. Equilibrium, measure, tact - all this must be demonstrated to your eastern partners and at the same time not goof. In general, when planning business negotiations in China, it is necessary to take into account that any business in this country is based on personal trust and measured, unhurried rhythm.
That is why the first business visit to China to meet with potential Chinese partners must be carefully thought out and planned in advance. You need to enlist the support of a partner from the Chinese business community, and also send in advance letters with business proposals to the participants of the meeting. It is also advisable to attach a presentation or a detailed description of the products and services offered, and all documents should be translated into Chinese. Please note that if the proposals are written in two languages, then for any disagreement, it is the Chinese version that will be recognized as dominant, so the translation should be given special attention.
Often, the Chinese agree to sign a letter of intent even before the first business meeting. However, unlike Western traditions, this fact does not at all guarantee further actions from the Chinese side. In the East, it is not customary to say a direct unequivocal "no". This is considered impolite and unacceptable rudeness, so such agreements of intent, signed by the two parties, but not binding them to anything, help to save face. In general, the answer "no" can rarely be heard, usually the refusal will be veiled with thin, florid phrases about "the need to discuss the proposal", "the impossibility of making such a difficult decision at a given moment" and so on.
At the first meeting with potential business partners, it is common to exchange business cards that are very important in the East and are literally the "second person" of a business person. The exchange of business cards is a mandatory ritual, unlike a handshake, which is still not an indispensable necessity in the East. When exchanging business cards, you must transfer them to your partner with both hands. Accept business cards are also necessary with two hands to show respect.
The business cards themselves, their design and content are very important. It is desirable that on the business card were given the full name, surname, titles, positions, as well as phone numbers. To come to a business meeting without a business card is considered impolite.
The Chinese will carefully study the position written on the business card, and will address the highest ranking member of the delegation with the greatest respect. It is also necessary to shake hands with the most senior person first.
Another important business ritual is, of course, the exchange of gifts. It usually takes place at the end of the negotiations so that they are not perceived as a bribe, but as a tribute to the Chinese side.
Traditional souvenirs from Russia are highly valued as a gift. It is better to opt for a business souvenir rather than a personal one. At the same time, one should not give watches, scarves, fruit baskets, flowers, as well as any items containing the number 4 - all these items in the East symbolize death. Stabbing and cutting objects are also not accepted as a gift in China, as they symbolize a break in relations. If you are invited to visit, it will be appropriate to bring sweets to the hostess or the children. Children in the East are very fond of, so attention to them will be perceived positively. But it is better not to give expensive gifts, so as not to make the owners of the house feel uncomfortable.
Careful observance of the ritual, slowness, painstaking and detailed study of proposals, unhurried establishment of personal contacts, which may take a very long time - all this is traditional in China and is based on centuries-old culture. Therefore, be prepared for the fact that business issues will not be resolved quickly.
In China, it is very important not to break the chain of command, always listen to the opinion of the senior in position and unquestioningly make the decision of the superior leader. Top positions in China can be occupied by both men and women, although the latter are still less common in business circles, due to the traditions of the Chinese hierarchical society. The decision of the head of the delegation or the head of the company will always play a key role, subordinates will always take this decision with humility and respect for their senior in the East, which is typical of the East.
For effective negotiations, the head of the delegation should have a high title, for example, a director or a top executive. From the Chinese side, the head will inevitably come to the meeting in order to pay homage to the guests, therefore, at least one person of the appropriate rank should be present from your side. The big advantage is the presence in the delegation of an experienced highly qualified specialist who could convince the partners of the seriousness of your intentions.
Another important negotiator is a good translator. This will give you confidence that everything you need has been translated. If you don't understand the language, the Chinese side will feel superior and will certainly take advantage of this. This is not considered something shameful in China, rather the opposite - such is the historical attitude towards “lao wai” (literally “an alien from outside”), as foreigners are called in China.
Dress up the Chinese simply and strictly, expensive suits are not so important. For women, it is important to dress decently, with a closed neckline, it is also not customary to wear high-heeled shoes. This is considered vulgar.
A business lunch is almost an obligatory item on the negotiation program. As a guest at lunch, you will definitely be treated to traditional dishes, and while some of them may seem quite exotic, try at least a small bite. You can refuse, but it will look impolite. The main rule of the meal: never start eating first and do not take the last bite from the common plate.
To feel more comfortable, it is better to be able to use Chinese chopsticks. Western appliances - forks and knives - are no longer such a rarity in Chinese restaurants, but they will never be put on the table in advance. In Chinese homes, you can also hardly count on any kind of cutlery other than chopsticks.
Rice is a must for any meal, the rest of the dishes are served in large plates "for everyone" and often you need to take a little on your plate. Traditional dishes are one of those that foreigners always like - chicken "gong bao" with nuts (depending on the region of preparation it can be very spicy), pork or fish in sweet and sour sauce. However, Chinese cuisine is very diverse, and there will always be a large number of all kinds of snacks on the table.
In conversations, it is better to touch on neutral topics and not discuss political issues related to controversial events in the history of China, as well as topics of Taiwan, Tibet and everything that may cause some negative emotions of the host side. The Chinese will be very positive about praise for the good organization of negotiations, delicious cuisine, as well as your enthusiasm and knowledge of their ancient great history.
Successful business in China requires not only business interest, but also an understanding of the oriental culture and mentality of your partners. Knowledge of local traditions and rituals will bring your company undoubted success and will give you many new impressions from contact with the wonderful world of the East, full of the philosophy of contemplation and the simple, uncomplicated beauty of every moment of life.
Published in the journal "Russian exporter"