It is important to show respect to those to whom respect is due – this is one of the ways in which you can show yourself to be honourable and in turn worthy of respect.
Respect should be shown to age, seniority, party membership, the history and traditions of China, political sensitivities, the company, the region… the list is almost endless. Stand up when a senior person enters the room, offer the seat of honour and be attentive even if the key persons English is weak.
Business cards are always exchanged on first meeting a new contact. Cards are held in both hands when exchanging and then scrutinised in detail. It is best to have your card printed in Chinese on the reverse and always offer it Chinese-side up. Treat the card with great respect as the card is the man.
Handshaking is the norm but a Chinese handshake will tend to be light and lingering. As it is considered impolite to look people straight in the eye, it is customary to look down, lowering the eyes as a mark of respect.
It is common to be involved in a series of meetings rather than one big meeting at which all major issues are disclosed and assessed. Meetings are about building relationships and exchanging information – it is rare for a decision to be made within the meeting. Decisions will be made elsewhere in consensus-style discussions, which involve all the relevant people (including possibly the Party.) As a result of this approach to meetings and their serial nature, patience is very definitely a virtue. Impatience will achieve nothing other than delaying things even more.
Although there is a large amount of well-documented corruption which takes place within the Chinese business environment, the giving of gifts is endemic to Chinese culture and has been for thousands of years. The giving and receiving of gifts is part of the ritual of business relationship development – and in a country where relations are placed firmly before business, gifts are therefore an important business tool. A mere thank you for a favour done is considered rude by the Chinese.
Avoid expensive gifts, as this could be mistaken for bribery (a serious criminal offence) and always wrap the gift. If visiting an organisation, take one gift to present to the whole group. Gifts are often refused two or three times before being accepted and, if wrapped, rarely opened in front of the giver.
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This World Business Culture profile is designed as an introduction to business culture in China only and a more detailed understanding needs a more in-depth exploration which we can provide through our training and consultancy services.