The China Business Culture: Are You Ruining Your Chances of Doing Business?

Until recently, most businesses were, essentially, excluded from trading in China; but, with that market opening up more to big business, and entrepreneurs alike, the need to learn more about China, business culture differences, and the way things tick, is becoming more important if you want to get ahead in this emerging market. So, what do you need to know when it comes to Chinese business etiquette?

Unlike many of the new business practices happening in the US and modern Europe, business philosophy in China still has strong links with the country’s history, and other cultural identities. With Taoism and Confucianism playing a large part in the daily lives of the average person in China, it’s more than understandable that the philosophies of both have found their way into Chinese business etiquette; after all, they have been a part of the way that the businesses have traded over the centuries, so it follows that what has worked until now, should still work into the future, too.

How does this influence China business culture, and maybe point to areas where you can improve when dealing with a Chinese business?

As well as affecting their social behavior, a China business culture that has Taoism and Confucianism at the heart of it will follow a strict social order, too. This hierarchical structure – while not present in all Chinese businesses – means that it is safer to be mindful of the way that it works, rather than take the risk of ignoring it, and offending the company that you are dealing with. Put simply, the way it works is this: if you are dealing with key personnel in the Chinese company, you should have people of equal or higher status from your company dealing with them i.e. you would never have an assistant from your company trying to deal with a manager from there’s.

Also, Chinese business etiquette incorporates the idea of the person that you are negotiating with ‘saving face’. This concept really isn’t as difficult to follow as it might first appear. Confucianism includes the goal of social harmony, and that comes into the business culture of China, too. As you might know, if you have ever had to negotiate with people before, the whole process can become a little heated (not always in a bad way) and that can lead to some disharmony between the two parties.

China business culture allows for negotiating, but, in order to keep the harmony, the representatives of the company may give you a ‘no’ to your offer when they want to take back control of the negotiations, even though they may still be prepared to negotiate with you further.

Of course, if your business plan is to import things from a Chinese company, then knowing a bit about the business culture of China may be helpful to you in your dealings with them, but it may not be quite as necessary as it would be if you were looking to start exporting to China, or have a branch setup over there.

When it comes to China business culture, remember that you should have people of an equal standing working together; they will often operate in smaller groups, so as to make it easier to keep the harmony between everyone; negotiations may take longer because solving things too quickly could involve some element of ‘losing face’; and having a quick read of the works of Sun Tzu could be useful, but not essential, when trying to get to grips with Chinese business etiquette.

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