Chinese Communication Styles

Unless you speak Chinese, (Mandarin being the most common as well as the official dialect), it can be difficult to do business in many parts of China without the aid of a translator.

English language levels are very patchy and although a layer of fluent English speakers exists, the layer is quite thin and levels fall away very quickly. Communicating in China can, therefore, be a slow, laborious activity and fraught with constant dangers in terms of misunderstanding and mistranslation. Don’t assume comprehension. Cover the same ground several times and constantly check for understanding.

One of the reasons that communication can be such a problem in China is that along with many other Asians, the Chinese find it extremely difficult to say ‘no’. Saying ‘no’ causes both embarrassment and loss of face and it is therefore better to agree with things in a less than direct manner. Thus anything other than an unequivocal yes probably means no. Be very wary of phrases such as ‘Yes but it might be difficult’ and ‘Yes, probably’.

It is also difficult to deliver bad news and this is often done through the use of an intermediary who can soften the blow and try to preserve as much good-will within the relationship as possible.

The Chinese have a reputation for impassiveness and this is largely based on Western misinterpretation of Chinese body language. As with the Japanese, the Chinese use a very limited amount of visual body language and Westerners interpret this rigidity as a lack of responsiveness and emotion. Lack of overt body language does not mean that the Chinese do not show their reactions – more that westerners are not skilled at reading it across the cultural divide.

Finally, don’t always assume that just because somebody happens to speak good English that they will automatically be more competent than somebody who doesn’t. Unless frequent interface into the West is paramount, fluency in English should be seen as an added extra.

A brief overview of some key concepts to consider when doing business in China

Written and Produced by Keith Warburton

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Overview

China seems to grow more confident by the day. Is it too strong a statement to say that China is starting to regain its historical position as the pre-eminent global economy? The Chinese government is steadfastly following a policy of internal economic consolidation and international engagement. Wherever you are in the world you can start to feel the impact of Chinese investment and influence. China can no longer be classified as an emerging market. China has emerged and is taking on the world – much as America did in the early twentieth century and Japan in the 1970’s.

How the traditionally pre-eminent global economies such as the USA, Germany and Japan react to the growing strength of China will be fascinating to watch over the coming decades but one thing is sure – China is a force to be reckoned with and cannot be ignored. If you are not currently doing business in (or with) China, you probably should be.

However, China is not easy – somebody once said ‘in China everything is possible – but nothing is easy.’ Before starting to do business in China it is essential that you try to get an understanding of the cultural drivers and expectations of your Chinese contacts. Do you really understand the importance of ‘face’ in China and do you feel confident you can navigate the complexities of Chinese corporate hierarchy? How are you going to develop those all-important relationships and what impact will Chinese long-termism potentially have on your cash-flow forecasts?

China is a land of opportunities but it is also a land of potential bear traps. Do your homework – don’t fail through lack of research and planning.

This country profile provides an overview of some of the key aspects of Chinese business culture in a concise, easy to follow-format. The document includes information on:

  • Background to business
  • Business Structures
  • Management style
  • Meetings
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Women in business
  • Entertaining