There are plenty of reasons for an American company to do business in China. However, in order to create and nurture positive relationships with your partners overseas, you must be aware of the cultural differences that have constructed our respective nation’s business mindsets and protocols. Business culture, etiquette, meeting procedures, and negotiation strategies vary all across the world, and it’s important to be aware and respectful of each countries values. A comprehensive guide would be nearly impossible to publish, and the most valuable experience you can gain will be from navigating actual relationships with Asian partners, but this small guide will help you understand some of the fundamental differences between American and Chinese business culture.
1. Relationships (Guanxi)
Establishing a harmonious system of relationships is a top priority for most people in China. In the business world, these networks positive relationships are called guanxi. If you have developed guanxi with someone, they will act on your behalf naturally, and they will expect you to do the same. This relationship is obviously based on earned trust, and may take a year or more to develop.
2. Face (Mianzi)
Often translated as “respect” or “honor,” mianzi is very important in Chinese culture, especially to businesspeople. Chinese culture is considered non-confrontational from a Western viewpoint, and it very rude to create a situation that involves conflict or embarrassment for anyone in the room. Causing someone to lose face may be enough to cause irreparable damage to a relationship.
3. Body Language/Physical Contact
In America, aggressive handshakes and domineering stances are often seen in the workplace. In China, businesspeople tend to be calm and reserved. A small handshake and nod of the head is expected during an introduction and at the beginning of meetings. Never put your arm around or pat someone’s back or shoulders.
4. Business Cards
Business cards hold much more value in China than America, as they contain your name and rank. Purchase a business card holder, rather than a wallet, and present and receive them with two hands, always while standing.
Guanxi tends to create much more intimate relationships between businesspeople in China. After work activities like dinner, karaoke or massages are often undertaken with colleagues, in order to strengthen relationships and build a sincere connection.