As we travel to do business in Asian countries, it is important that we note the differences in business culture from country to country. Of course we know the famous example of the two-handed business card receipt, but some values that not as notable in the US business culture will prove important during our business interactions abroad.

We have also discussed the importance of relationship. While we will not be conducting business deals, it is important to remember the Chinese expect quality time with business partners before acting on deals.

Some additional considerations that we take for granted in the US but are important in Shanghai are:

  • Punctuality – we should be early for all appointments so that we are absolutely never late. Being late is a serious offense in Chinese business culture.
  • Hierarchy – The highest ranking person should enter through the door first. The place of honor is to the host’s right on a sofa or in chairs that are opposite the room’s doors. If the meeting is held around a large conference table, then the guest of honor is seated directly opposite the host.
  • Seniority – it is likely that our Chinese hosts will treat Dr. Seal with the most prestige because of his rank.
  • Indirectness – it’s not uncommon for Chinese to defer the conversation versus give a direct “no” to a question. It is important we don’t put anyone on the spot by asking them to provide the information they seem unwilling to give or challenge a person directly. Doing so will lead them to become embarrassed and lose face.
  • Modesty – If a Chinese person gives you a compliment, it is polite to deny it graciously. Modesty is highly valued in China.

Additionally, there are other things to consider such as:

  • Greetings – Use a not-too-firm handshake + slight bow. Chinese prefer to be formally introduced to someone new. Always stand up when being introduced and remain standing throughout the introductions.
  • Silences – don’t interrupt silences, as uncomfortable as they may be
  • Attire/dress – dress neatly and conservatively for the business meeting
  • Business cards – receive with two hands, study card, and carefully put away in a thoughtful location
  • Small talk – be prepared for curious questions about home life and of course, US politics. Meetings usually begin with small talk to help both sides feel more comfortable. After a few moments of small talk, there is a short welcoming speech from the host followed by a discussion of the meeting’s topic.
  • Difference in agreement and response: During any conversation, Chinese counterparts will often nod their heads or make affirmative utterances. These are signals that they are listening to what is being said and understand what is being said. These are not agreements to what is being said.

Finally, Chinese people will appreciate it if you use a couple of words in Chinese, but make sure you are aware of the meaning and the appropriate occasions. Here are a few helpful phrases:

HelloNi Hao
Hello (honorific)Nin hao
Thank youXie Xie
Cheers (toast)Gan pei
GoodbyeZai jian


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