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Tips for doing business in China

Flexibility and adaptability are key factors for success for foreign companies in China. Showing an appreciation and sensitivity to local business customs can make all the difference for any business trying to enter the Mainland market.

Present business cards - Bring plenty of business cards to meetings in mainland China. It is also advisable to have your name and title translated into Chinese and printed on your card. The Chinese place great emphasis on the formality of exchanging business cards when they first meet. To be courteous, it is customary to present and receive a business card with both hands, and not to put away the received card immediately. Rather, place the card on the table or hold it in your hand for some time, or better still, make an effort to look at the person’s title.

Invest the time in small talk - Be patient. It takes time to build a relationship with the Chinese and let them naturally feel “connected” with you. Chinese businessmen like small talk and pleasantries, and enjoy learning more about you as a person before closing deals. Topics like sports, weather and hobbies are good for breaking the ice. Initial meetings are thus rarely expected to produce results.

Never say ‘no’ -Avoid the word ’no’. Instead, use ’perhaps’or ’we’ll see’in your business dealings. Be aware that when the Chinese use these words, they are often politely saying ‘no’. It is a common cultural practice for Chinese to avoid a direct response that might upset the other party. Be mindful that Chinese people tend to say ‘yes’ to show that they are paying attention to you or that they are following what you say, rather than meaning they agree with what you say or your terms.

Discuss or negotiate - Speak slowly, use pauses, and avoid slang or jargon during discussions and negotiations. This will make it easier for Chinese people who are non- native English speakers to understand. It will also make it easier for any translators to translate. Chinese people do not have the habit of asking people to repeat or clarify, for fear of appearing impolite or suggesting a lack of expertise in their professional domain.

Interpersonal communication - Find opportunities to talk to people on a one-to-one basis to get a better picture of what is going on from their perspective. Chinese people usually tend not to express what they have in mind in public, but they feel free to speak

their minds when they are alone without their colleagues.

Mind your body language - Wear a warm smile to show that you are interested. A smile is a common means of communication in China, especially among strangers. Chinese love to smile. It is interesting to note that Chinese people sometimes use smiles as a defense mechanism when they’re nervous, uncomfortable, embarrassed or don’t know what to do.

Avoid steady eye contact with Chinese. In Chinese culture, steady eye contact is viewed as a gesture of challenge or defiance, especially from subordinates talking to their superiors.

Present gifts - Be prepared to give and receive gifts from business associates. However, remember to present the gifts in private, rather than in front of other members of the organisations, where it may be interpreted as a bribe. Also, avoid giving clocks or anything that is pure white because both symbolise death in China.

As long as you enter the China market with your eyes open and are willing to learn from your business partners about local business culture, growing your business will not be too difficult in the Mainland. Learn a few Chinese words to show your interest in the language and culture, which will serve as an excellent icebreaker when meeting your Chinese partners for the first time. Above all, make an effort but don’t worry about perfection: Chinese people do not expect you to know all of their etiquette, and they make allowances for foreigners.

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