Heading to China soon for business? It can be daunting to make your way to a different continent to do business, especially when the culture differs vastly from your own. Even the most confident negotiator feels a little out of their depth when they head for new climes, so we thought we’d share a few of the basic etiquette tips for business travellers to China.
Relationships, or Guan Xi, play a vital role in business dealings throughout China. Chinese business people almost exclusively align themselves with partners with which they are familiar, which is why you'll find that many companies have local representatives in their employ. Social connections are very important. Don't think of China as one market; the many regional differences make it more along the lines of 30 markets. If you're seeking a joint venture, start small in one region and build up your network of contacts, rather than shooting for a multi-regional target on your first visit.
TOP TIP: Come bearing gifts. It is customary to take a small gift to present to a prospective business partner upon your first meeting. It is recommended that you take a token that represents your country of origin, e.g. chocolate from Switzerland, or tulip bulbs from the Netherlands.
Expect to be wined and dined throughout negotiations. Your Chinese hosts are likely to take you to an impressive restaurant where you will be treated to a variety of Chinese delicacies. Frequent toasts are also part of the entertaining landscape. If you have any food allergies or prefer not to partake of alcohol, it is wise to communicate this to your hosts even before your arrival, as refusing foods or toasts is likely to be seen as a sign of disrespect.
TOP TIP: Raising your glass slightly lower than your Chinese host during a toast is a sign of respect.
Time-keeping and meeting agendas are not as strict in the East as it is in the West. Meeting times will often be set for when a certain party arrives at a given destination, in which case they will then let the other party know to make their way there as well. Similarly, meeting for a meal does not necessarily make the event a business encounter. Shared meals are often seen as opportunity to get to know the other part, in which case pushing a business agenda will be seen as rude. Try to ascertain what the situation is before you meet for a meal.
By adhering to these basic guidelines, you’ll be smoothing the way for fortuitous encounters with your business contemporaries in China. Naturally, there are many other intricacies that play a role in Chinese business relations, so it’s always best to prepare as thoroughly as you can by consulting with an etiquette specialist before heading out. Keep your eye on the blog in coming months, as we share more advice on foreign travel etiquette and other topics of interest to frequent corporate flyers. In the meantime, contact the TravelManor team to tap into a rich resource of business travel know-how.