Business Etiquette in China: Maximize Your Success

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Navigating the Chinese market and winning clients with a Western business background can be challenging and often confusing. The cultural codes and manners that you use to connect with potential clients back home often lead to very different results or go completely unnoticed if you use them in the Chinese market.

Chinese business etiquette is a unique skill that any astute professional who intends on breaking into the Chinese market needs to learn. From the way you dress to the body language that you use, Chinese business etiquette skills are critical if you want to impress and connect. The good news is, all of these skills can be learned.

A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step

As an international business etiquette consultant, I want to share with you 3 tips that are sure to make your next business trip to China a success.


 

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Photo courtesy of Sandeep Murali | Photography
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Wear Conservative Professional Dress

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The professional dress code in China is very conservative. A business suit is a must for anyone travelling to China on business. Men should wear a classic business suit in charcoal or navy blue. Either a plain suit or a pinstripe suit is fine, but make sure you pair it with a crisp white shirt, or another light colour, such as sky blue or pink. It will often be expected that you wear a tie to business meetings and even meals, so don’t forget to pack a conservative tie that looks professional. This means the humoristic tie you received as a gift stays at home. Businesswomen can choose between a skirt suit or a pant suit. Both are acceptable when doing business in China. The colour of your suit should be kept conservative, so stick with dark colours, such as black, charcoal, or navy blue. Your shirt should be in a lighter colour to contrast with your suit, but make sure  you can button it up high enough to avoid showing cleavage.


Learn Chinese Business Card Etiquette 

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Mini Moo CardsWhen you think of business card etiquette for China, most people immediately think of offering a business card with both hands. Yes, this is something you should absolutely do, but it’s also important to think about what you print on your business card for your Chinese trip. I always advise my clients to have separate business cards printed for their Chinese clients. One side of the business card should be in English or your native language, and the other side should be printed in Chinese. Depending on the area you’re visiting, “simplified” Chinese is often recommended. Be sure to mention your company, your rank, and any qualifications you have on your business card. These are all important pieces of information in Chinese culture and often pay a role in business connections. If you can, try to print gold lettering somewhere on your business card. In China this is an auspicious colour and can help give you an edge.


Soften Your Handshake

BusinessIn most Western countries, particularly the US or the UK, we’re taught to give a firm handshake when we meet somebody for the first time. This is intended to convey confidence, interest, and trust toward the other person. But if you’ve ever done business in China, or another Asian country, you may have noticed that a firm handshake is often hard to find. Instead, you’re more likely to come across a gentle handshake that ends much sooner than the 2-3 up-and-down movements you’re used to. If you’re trying to connect with Chinese business people, you may want to re-think the style of handshake you use. Avoid a strong Western style handshake which could make you look aggressive and overpowering. Instead, opt for a softer handshake and don’t maintain eye contact for a long time. In China, it’s not uncommon for people to shy away from eye contact during a handshake. It doesn’t mean they can’t be trusted, it’s simply a way for them to show respect to you.

Chinese business etiquette is a profound topic that’s very much rooted in the intricate rules of Chinese culture. There are many more business etiquette skills that can help you on your business trip, but as the Chinese proverb says, “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”. I hope these tips will help you with that first step.

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