Doing business in China is probably one of the most interesting and challenging activities in the world. The whole environment is very different to our western standards. Paul Bailey, manager from our Zhuhai office has shared a couple of insights that can help when breaking into the world of Chinese business.
“Being involved in the day to day operations for any business in a foreign country will present its own challenges. However, having already spent almost three years here in China, I find it hard to imagine any country so different from ‘Western’ cultural norms when it comes to conducting business. Of course, ‘norms’ is a word to be used sparingly in any business context as practices inevitably vary between individuals and companies. It is important to remember that even on home soil, depending on the company, we may just as easily choose to seal a deal over a pint of bitter as we would a boardroom table. The same principles can be said for China and business must always be tailored to those with whom you are conducting it with. The following information is to be understood as general rules and will most certainly not apply to every situation but should happen often enough to be worth brushing up on!
When it comes to China the first thing to consider is the massive influence that culture has on how business is conducted in general. Companies in China interact differently to those in the UK and relationships are constructed and maintained in ways that might seem unusual or irrational to us but make perfect sense from their perspective. For instance, when sitting down for a business meeting you may be surprised to find yourself sharing pleasantries, anecdotes, family pictures and ultimately only discussing business ten minutes before the scheduled meeting was due to finish. Rather than spending the preceding minutes working yourself up into a Kung Fu style fury and blowing any chance of a fruitful relationship, simply knowing that the preamble is just as important as the business decisions can help you to achieve your goals and give you the preparation you need to succeed in the Far East.
Never lose an opportunity to give your prospective business partners ‘face’. If you are unsure what it means to gain and lose ‘face’ then find out what it means and learn how to go about acquiring some for yourself during your time in China. The all-important ‘face’ is cumulative in that it will carry forward and like a healthy bank account it should be maintained as it will either act in your favour or be to your detriment when it comes to securing deals and generally getting stuff done. Never forget that most deals in China revolve around ‘guangxi’ which can be interpreted as ‘your connections and the practice of giving and returning favours’. Whilst ‘who you know’ and the common courtesy of returning a favour matters wherever you are in the world, I strongly doubt there is anywhere else where these facets are so integral to the nature of doing business. Oh how hard it can seem to get the most rudimentary things done until you turn over the ‘guangxi’ stone! Just remember, nothing is free and favours are expected to be returned in greater abundance. It therefore pays to know that the past provision of favours and the implication of future back-scratching can carry just as much weight as a generous offer currently on the table.
The final pearl of wisdom I will leave you with is to never forget that the social side of business is very much intertwined with the corporate side. Your business associates may be upset to find you not attempting to lower your glass slightly below theirs as a gesture of respect when you are ‘cheersing’ around the table. That puzzled look you are sharing with your Chinese associate after he has just finished his whole glass of beer in one gulp and you have taken a meagre sip is attributed to the expectation that the better the relationship between you both, the greater amount you will endeavour to consume after each clink of glasses. Don’t forget to show how honoured you are given the seat reserved only for the most distinguished guests when sitting down for dinner. Don’t forget to take note of the guy who gets the seat of honour if it isn’t you!
Of course your Chinese friends may well have done their own homework on your culture and therefore not expect such courtesies from you, but then again perhaps they haven’t. Make sure you do your homework and prepare as much as possible in order to minimise the possibilities of causing offence and ensure that you give yourself every opportunity to conduct business successfully in this wonderful country.”
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