How to successfully conduct a business meeting in China
For foreigners, organizing and attending business meetings with Chinese counterparts may be quite challenging, especially if you don’t know the corresponding business etiquette.
Mark E. Buchman, an instructor at UCLA Extension, explains that there are 5 principles to follow – called the 5Ps – when it comes to doing business in China:
- Personal relationships
And this is only a brief overview. Here are a few more tips that you can apply when conducting business meetings with Chinese counterparts.
First of all, your meeting has to be planned very thoroughly.
- Pick the right date: When choosing a date, make sure to avoid public holidays in China. Have a look at the website of the Chinese government for more details.
- Anticipate: Learn as much as you can about the company and find out who you are dealing with. This may help you better understand your counterpart and prepare for contingencies. If there are language barriers, you should for example arrange interpretation services.
- Invitation and confirmation: Plan ahead and be patient. First, make sure to share in advance precise information about the topics to be discussed. Then, try not to rush your Chinese counterpart, and don’t be surprised if he/she gives you a last minute confirmation.
This part is essential for you to make a positive first impression. The dress code should be formal, and you should be on time – if not early.
- Arriving: If you are the one hosting the meeting, make sure to send a representative to receive the guests outside and escort them into the meeting room. Also, keep in mind that entering the room happens in hierarchical order – even though this is slowly becoming less critical in the Chinese business culture. Then, the host will greet everyone individually and in descending order of rank.
- Greeting: Usually, slight nodding or bowing is appreciated, but sometimes you may also softly shake hands if your Chinese counterpart initiates it. When addressing someone, you should always follow the following rule: Family name + Title. Of course, also having a Chinese name would be a plus.
- Business cards: This is a very important element of the Chinese business culture. First, ensure that your business card is of good quality and preferably bilingual. When handing it over – or receiving one – use both hands, and make sure the Chinese version is on the top, with the writing facing the person receiving it. After receiving a business card, take some time to read it and then make sure to either keep it in front of you on the table or to put it in a pocket close to your heart. Besides, never write on a business card!
During the meeting
It is always organized by rank. Generally, the seat on the right of the inviting person is the place of honor.
Before starting with business-talk, there should always be a short period of small-talk. Then follows a welcoming speech, and finally the business-oriented discussion. When introducing your company, don’t forget to mention special features of your company like the size, establishment date, reputation, etc. This can be a great asset for your business, as it is particularly well-considered in China.
Having a meal:
- Don’t refuse a dish, this may be impolite.
- Try to eat with chopsticks if you know how to use them. This will make a great impression.
- Even though burping and slurping are part of Chinese business etiquette, blowing your nose while eating is a no-go in China.
- Praise the food – but not excessively, you don’t want your counterpart to think you are dishonest.
- Don’t finish your meal too quickly, otherwise, they may think you are still hungry.
- Beware: In China, there is a real drinking culture based mainly on “baijiu” alcohol. Thus, you may have to accept all the drinks your Chinese partner offers you, unless you have good reasons not to, like medical ones.
Indirectness and distance
- Chinese people generally communicate very indirectly, so you may have to interpret a lot of what is said and what is omitted. As a consequence, it is also better to avoid giving strong negative answers.
- Emotions are usually hidden in the name of harmony and in order to “keep the face”. This directly affects the reputation and dignity of a person in China. It also shows that most Chinese people are not very prone to risks. Therefore, the decision-making process may be relatively slow.
- Avoid physical contact, and don’t point. Only show something with an open hand if necessary.
- According to Chinese business etiquette, subordinate members should avoid talking without being asked to do so by a senior person. Knowing who is in charge is easier this way.
- Make sure to give your conversation partner opportunities to speak, as he won’t interrupt you (and you should not either).
- Avoid controversial topics like politics, the environment, and human rights. Instead, try to share your positive thoughts on China.
- Remember that if someone nods, it only means that he is listening, not necessarily agreeing.
Negotiation is very common in China. This process aims at converging to a mutual benefit, a state of harmony, and a long-term relationship.
It is paid by the host, even though the counterpart may offer 2-3 times to pay, followed by light protest, but without arguing.