Business Etiquette In The Far East

While some business etiquette remains the same worldwide, there are certain differences between American business etiquette and Chinese business etiquette. If you find yourself in China for business purposes, here’s what you need to know.

Start on the Right Foot
Schedule meetings in advance and be sure that they do not conflict with Chinese holidays. Arrive early—being late is highly insulting to the Chinese. Before a meeting begins, open with small talk. If you have never been to China before, you can discuss how your visit is going. Hobbies and family are also acceptable topics, but resist telling that joke about your uncle as jokes can be lost in translation.

The Business of Business Cards
In China, it is polite to accept items with both hands, especially business cards. Do not throw the card in your briefcase or stuff it in your pocket without reading it—look the card over before placing it in a business card case. As for your business cards, have one side translated into Chinese letters for their convenience.

“No’s” Are a No-No
Instead of saying “no” to a Chinese colleague during a meeting, say, “I’ll think about that.” Expect the same from them, as the Chinese value thinking things over before answering. Remember that the Chinese will often pause in between sentences to show careful thought, so copy their pace. Deadlines should not be referenced at a meeting. What should be referenced is your colleague’s title—address people as “Mr. Li” or “Miss Li.” The surname follows the title.

Keep Your Hands to Yourself
It is offensive in China to touch your business associate and talking with your hands can be distracting. Pointing with your finger is also offensive. If you need to point, use an open palm. As for handshakes, allow your Chinese business associate to offer their hand first when a meeting starts. A handshake should not be too strong or you will be read as too aggressive. On the other hand, if you display emotions on your face, you are targeted as weak, so have your poker face ready.

Beyond Your Local Chinese Buffet

You may know how to use chopsticks, but did you know that having your chopsticks standing up in your rice is symbolic of a funeral? Chopsticks should also never be placed in an “X” or separated on either side of your plate. Lay your chopsticks side-by-side, next to your plate. You should wait for your host to seat you and do not eat or drink before them. Women should note that they are discouraged from drinking at meals. Be sure to leave a little bit of food on your plate when you are done—if you clear your plate, it signals that your host did not give you enough to eat.

Guidelines for Gifts
Though previously considered bribes, the Chinese business world is becoming more open to receiving small gifts as a thank you. A gift should only be presented after the meeting and should be emphasized as a gift from your company. Items of beauty that are not too expensive are ideal gifts. This can include items with your company logo on it or objects representative of your country, such as a book with pictures.

Business gifts are often reciprocated and your Chinese colleague may ask you what you would like. Respond with something specific to Chinese culture, such as an ink painting or tea.

Don’t Be Colorblind
The Chinese are very sensitive to colors. Avoid white, green, blue or black wrapping paper as these colors are associated with death and bad luck. Also avoid the unlucky number four. As for good colors and numbers, red and the number eight symbolize luck and success. Gold and yellow symbolize power. Your Chinese business associates will be impressed if your business card is engraved in gold. As for your clothes, dress in subdued or dark colors.

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