Tipps for Business Etiquette in China
Every country has its own business etiquette, which can vary depending on the culture area. That applies especially for the economically increasingly relevant China. To be prepared for any Chinese business partner or a business trip to China, here are some of the key aspects of the chinese business etiquette.
The importance of hierarchy
A key issue is the great importance of hierarchy in the common social life of the Chinese. Specially on business relationships the emphasis is on the strict compliance with the hierarchy within a company, including multiple behaviors, which are usually unfamiliar for business people from western countries.
Already at the welcome the hierarchy plays an important role. The greeting follows namely a strict hierarchical position. The most important, is to greet the most senior employee first. Ideally, you are familiar with the corporate hierarchy beforehand. In case of doubt, restraint is better than hasty actions to cover up insecurity. Instead, you should rather show your insecurity by a slight bow and a somewhat helpless, waiting look. This signals that you take the Chinese etiquette seriously and it will be credited rather as a tendency of respect than weakness. Moreover, in this case the most senior employee of your Chinese business partner will approach and greet you.
Although originally European, handshaking is familiar to the Chinese in dealing with Western business partners and is certainly part of the business etiquette in this context. However, you should avoid shaking the hand too hard even your Chinese business partner is pressing a bit harder.
Salutations & Smalltalk
Usually you can use the official English title Mister and Mrs. Together with the according last name. In case you get the surname mentioned, you can use it as well. Smalltalk, the exchange of general and positive, uncomplicated information, is of great importance. Asking questions about the age of a person in China is not considered rude but may even be important information for rank in the social hierarchy.
Another general point is that kindness and a smile are highly appreciated. You should avoid rising your voice and showing any emotions like your own dissatisfaction.
The right clothing
With a conservative business outfit like a dark suit, white shirt and conservative tie you come off the best. As well at after-work events you should avoid short pants. In the event of a business trip to China, you should economize on the color white, because in China it is associated with death, similar to black in Europe.
The role of the business card
Business cards play a very important role in the Chinese business world. They are status symbols and mostly made of high quality paper. When you receive such a business card, you should always read and look at it for a while before putting it too casually in your pocket. Remember the importance of the business card and therefore do not put it in any pocket unread and careless. Very important in the handover ritual: a business card is handed over and received with both hand. This is a gesture of respect whose roots reach far back. In this way, gifts were presented to the emperor. Even today gifts are handed over with two hands.
Dinner & Alcohol
At dinner the hierarchy plays a role, too, wherefore you should wait, which seat will be assigned to you. Even at a so-called business dinner you should avoid business issues as well as negative or sensitive issues. You shouldn’t refuse offered food too easily, because this could affront your business partner. Alcohol is here as popular as in Europe. But if you start to drink alcohol, you should be able to hold one’s drink, because it is considered rude to make the transition to soft drinks again, thus quitting the group.
If you don’t want to drink alcohol, you can announce this, relating on reasons of health or religion. Your business relationships shouldn’t be affected in any kind of negative way.
The most important is, to know about the different understandings of hierarchy, courtesy and caution, as well as harmony. However, the Chinese know this most of the time too, so they don’t expect a sophisticated Chinese behavior from Western business partners.
We hope, that our tips for basic behavior are helpful for your upcoming business trip to China and will affect your business in a positive way.
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