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What are Common Challenges when Working with the Chinese?


With the second largest economy in the world, China has truly global interests.

As a result, more and more professionals are doing business with the Chinese.

Collaborating across borders, time zones and cultures is always a challenge.

However, with the right mental attitude, a little preparation and a healthy dose of curiosity, these challenges can be overcome.

That’s why we do what we do! All our training courses are designed to help professionals working across cultures manage such challenges.

Based on our experience of delivering China cultural awareness training, below are the top 5 challenges people experience when working with the Chinese.

1. The Language Barrier

The language barrier is the most common communication challenge when doing business with the Chinese. Although many Chinese businesspeople can speak English, it is important to understand that English is not their first language.

They can experience real difficulties in understanding idioms, colloquialisms and slang, especially when someone is talking at native speaker breakneck speed. On top of this, Chinese culture values indirect communication and saving face, meaning many people won’t necessarily tell you if they haven’t understood something.


2. Differences in Business Etiquette

Another challenge when doing business with the Chinese is navigating various differences in business etiquette. The Chinese value protocol which means they have a certain way of doing things.

For example, in China when commercial parties collaborate, it’s common practice to have ‘go betweens’ from each side who act like human bridges. If you’re not used to this, or you don’t have such a concept in your business culture, it can lead to real problems.


3. The Time Zone Challenge

Perhaps one of the hardest challenges, and one which not many people can do anything about, is the potentially huge time differences. This can cause all sorts of issues, especially if your morning is China’s end of the day.

Scheduling meetings, sending emails, getting decisions made and basic things like having a training session that everyone can feel fully engaged in, all become tough. Depending on how intensely you work with Chinese colleagues or clients, it may be necessary to rethink your working hours.


4. IT & Technology Restrictions

China has unique technology restrictions - commonly known as the "Great Firewall" - that block access to many popular social media platforms and websites around the world. Google, WhatsApp, Skype, Dropbox, Linked In and Zoom all will not work in China.

For some businesses and organizations that may rely heavily on such platforms, software and websites, it can make life incredibly challenging. Although many organizations decide to use Chinese alternatives, some will not, due to safety and security risks, which can become very restrictive.


5. Cultural Differences in Business Practices

Finally, cultural differences pose many challenges for professionals new to China. The business culture values collectivism, harmony and loyalty, which can be different from North American or Northern European business cultures that tend to value individualism, assertiveness and time.

This plays out in a number of ways. For example, time in Chinese culture is approached with a lot more fluidity than in say, American culture. Time in this culture is not ‘money’ as it is in the USA. This feeds into many differences around business practices including meetings, decision-making, management, communication, negotiations and much more.

In conclusion, doing business with the Chinese can present unique communication challenges that need to be understood and navigated.

These challenges include the language barrier, business etiquette, time zone differences, technology restrictions, and cultural differences. To overcome these challenges, businesses should:

  • invest in cultural training
  • learn to work with Chinese business practices
  • and use technology and communication tools that are accessible in China

Learn More About Doing Business with China

You can get even more insights and tips by taking this China Cultural Awareness eLearning Course.

It’s bursting with essential tips and insights into Chinese business culture and etiquette to help you make the best impression possible!

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