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Chinese Business Etiquette 101
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All you need to know about Chinese Business Etiquette

You can avoid additional costs by hiring a consultant or commissioning market research to better understand the cultural differences between the West and Asia and its impact on business: This article will allow you to spend (a little less) money to know the Chinese culture of business and will hopefully inform you about all you need to know about Chinese business etiquette.

In all regions of the world, especially in Asian cultures, and Chinese culture, values related to the country’s history, its philosophy, its education system and changing morals within his company can be found in the practice of business, including in negotiations with Western firms.

Speaking to men and women from a different culture for doing business is ultimately a big commercial challenge and human challenge. Whether you outsource your shopping trading with Chinese people since your home country, or you create a physical structure like a buying office in China in which you must hire direct local employees, cultural differences appear daily and affect your usual way to manage your business.

So when you establish business relations with your partner, you must ensure that the impact of these differences is as low as possible to monitor and manage your employees. We will see here what the major cultural differences are and how they are ubiquitous and sometimes sources of pressure or tension in trade relations with China.

Differences in direct relationship to the person

Firstly, the partner of Western culture that does business with a Chinese partner must know the concept of hierarchy in an organization.

In a Chinese company, the manager is considered as the head of the family and employees are somehow his “children.” Employees must of course obey their manager, the same way that managers and others should refer to their manager higher for certain decisions, et c.. In the societal pyramid, Chinese leaders and managers are accustomed to deal only with managers rank just below them, not because they are not allowed to speak directly to the level still below, but it is that they do not want to deal with people belonging to a level close to them. Question of respectability. Similarly, if we start from the bottom of the pyramid, each level dialogue strictly with his supervisor, he will never complain grandfather’s attitude or mistakes of his father. And indeed, in these families that are the Chinese companies, the fear of “seniors” is a feeling still present.

Then, the “face” is one of the most ubiquitous concepts in China, let alone even in a professional environment. (See the article published in the China Marketing blog) We must at all costs avoid “losing face “in front of his subordinates, but also avoid losing face with external parties like suppliers, for example, the risk being to see your relationships deteriorate thereafter. Similarly, we can give the face in public to congratulate an employee, but in no case it will make public reprimands, in which case he would lose face and could then spend all his time to convince the group against the manager who did not follow this rule. So in general, praise is public while reprimands are the order of the private discussion.

And foreigners working with the Chinese are constantly faced with problems arising from lack of clear communication or miscommunication when it is linked to the question of the face. Indeed, a Chinese who you are asking to do something always answer “yes, okay” even though he did not understand what is your request. It is very rare that he dares to ask questions to gain a better understanding of you. As a Chinese who does not understand what you are asking for fearing to lose face if you did say publicly what you have to say, or it may make you lose yours because the fact that he has not understood may mean that you have incorrectly explained what you want and so you’re not a skilled manager. Therefore encourage Chinese people to deal with you to understand the importance of asking questions and train them to do so.

Differences from social concepts

Again, in relation to the idea of serving their own interests, the Chinese attach a much wider importance than in the West to the “guanxi” – relationships. Indeed, the principle of recommendation from one person to another because of their good guanxi is very common, or the rendering a service to a person who is the friend of the friend of good guanxi with is a Chinese daily affair. The danger is that doing business in China is conducted mainly at two levels.

You may encounter the case of this plant, which will you recommend another because both have good relationships with each other or that one is indebted to another, but that does not necessarily attest to the quality of new plant, so you have to be caution. Another case which can cause even more problems, if one of your employees who builds and maintains good relations with suppliers personally, and which may be corrupted very quickly, either by being offered gifts, parties watered, and even monetary commissions on your purchases! Carefulness is therefore recommended wherever there is  a priori unsuspected guanxi.

As part of the work, the Chinese may be contradictory in the way they consider the power of their leader. On the one hand they expect him ideas, opinions and initiatives, but on the other they are reluctant to accept being an almost direct authoritarian. Clearly, it is important that the leader is a leader and take the initiative to all the important decisions, but it gives the feeling to his employees that they are involved in the decision (and between a client and a provider) in a consensual manner. If the Chinese do not agree with what is being asked, it often still say “yes” but will do nothing, whereas if instead you push on it to reveal what it would fully to agreement, and that the discussions will lead to a final equilibrium that satisfies both parties in their middle, you will most likely see the accomplishment you are looking for. This is because the Chinese do not usually speak up about something that bothers them that you have to raise the topic.

Other Differences

Eventually, you have to accept the Chinese representation in the business and professional environment behaviors that could be described as inconsistent in our Western perspective. However, individually, these behaviors are obvious. The challenge for us lies in the acceptance of their ability to think in black and white at the same time, and even greater ability to make a combination of white and black that is as well not understandable to our impeccable eyes.

How to design the fact that the Chinese are so individualistic but do make part of a group, or a “unit of work”? How to design they seem to support the group but yet they practice very common denunciation? How to understand that there is still reward systems by working group when they have a rare concept of team spirit in the effort?

In general, the Chinese sees only his personal interest in the positive effects that a particular action to be taken would bring to them. If a colleague has made a difference, he would denounce him if he has nothing to lose but to win back recognition of loyalty from his manager, saying it helps to save the group. Similarly, a Chinese colleague will do the job if it allows him to profit for himself, but not to cooperate or simply improve profitability of a certain work group or the business.

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