Thursday, May 31, 2007

China Business Do's and Don'ts

In a recent article published on, Elisabeth Eaves writes about the ways in which new foreign CEO's can acquaint themselves with Chinese culture. This article gives the rights and wrongs of business deals in china.

Here's what you need to know.

Do Your Research:
Foreign entrepreneurs in the '80s had virtually no information. Today, you could be crushed by a mountain of advice books. How to choose?

American Rachel DeWoskin, author of Foreign Babes in Beijing, a memoir about her five years in the early '90s as a business consultant and soap opera star in China, suggests two. She calls Jonathan Spence's book To Change China: Western Advisers in China "a fabulous business tool and guide," and she also recommends James McGregor's One Billion Customers: Lessons from the Front Lines of Doing Business in China.

Show Some Respect:
Avoid embarrassment--not just your own, but other people's too.

"Saving face" is one of the building blocks of Chinese culture, says Soeren Petersen, regional analyst for Asia at iJet, a travel risk consultancy. In practice, it means avoiding conflict and preserving other people's dignity, he says.

It can come in handy when dealing with anything from standard travel snafus to boardroom negotiations.

Don't Jump In:
The Chinese are comfortable with silences in conversation, says Kenneth Lieberthal, author of numerous books and articles on business in China and a professor at the University of Michigan.

"After you've asked a question, it's worth pausing a little longer than you would with an American," he says. If you rush to fill a silence, you could miss the most interesting thing someone has to say.

Have Your Own Interpreter:
The value of a private interpreter is "not so much to do the interpretation, but to tell you afterward what was mistranslated. I've rarely sat in on a session where I didn't think something was missed," says Lieberthal, a fluent Mandarin speaker.

Prime example: If a Chinese negotiator says the words, "we have to do research on that" at the end of a discussion, you might only get the literal translation. In fact, the expression means "no."
That's Mr. Hu To You:
Given and family names are said in the reverse order from English. So President Hu Jintao is Mr. Hu.

Know Your Superstitions:
Four is bad, eight is good--which is why hotels rarely have a fourth floor.

No Politics At Dinner:
Bringing up Taiwan, Tiananmen Square or the Cultural Revolution is no way to ingratiate yourself. To do that, mention China's 4,000-year history.

Accept Business Cards With Two Hand:
Why? "It’s a little representation of the person you're taking it from, so it should be treated with respect," DeWoskin says. That means no crumpling, dropping or stuffing it hastily in your pocket.

Don't Bow While:
this was once a Chinese tradition, and is still common in neighboring countries, the Chinese have mostly dropped the habit, especially when dealing with Westerners.

Remember All Those Things Your Mother Said:
Certain lessons are universal. Be polite. Eat what you're served--if not in great quantities, at least with enthusiasm, says DeWoskin. "If you treat people with patience and empathy, you'll get farther."

To view the entire article at its original location click on the title of this post.

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