If you’re doing business with the Chinese, then you need to make sure you understand Chinese business culture.
What might be perfectly acceptable in your culture might be rude in China.
Making a good impression is important in any country, so we’re going to share some tips on what behaviours to avoid when working with the Chinese.
Remember, China is a big place. The behaviours we mention might not be applicable to everyone and everywhere in China. Just as manners and behaviours will be different in your own country, the same is just as true in China.
Use these insights more as a safety net to initially help you initially navigate Chinese business culture until you properly get to know the people you work with.
5 things that are considered rude in Chinese business culture
1) Jumping straight into business
Rooted in Confucianism, relationships and trust are a pillar in Chinese business culture.
If you’re travelling to China to attend meetings, then make sure you stay long enough to get to know the people you are meeting with. Think of it as a bank. The more you invest in building trust, the more productive and fruitful your time there is likely to be.
If you’re meeting virtually with Chinees clients or colleagues, then take the time to engage in lots of small talk before moving on to business. If you’re in China, then also consider meeting up outside the workplace for a meal or perhaps a drink.
Jumping straight to business or jetting off back to your home country straight after a meeting is not only likely to be perceived as bad manners, but it may also damage your business relationships as you may be judged as being interested in the business only and not in the relationship.
2) Contradicting people in public
Not only do Chinese people make great efforts to protect their own reputation, but they also go out of their way to protect the reputation of their peers.
Whether it’s the communication style, formalities or etiquette, the influence of face is pervasive in Chinese culture.
Be careful not to say anything that could possibly infer criticism or that contradicts people – especially in public. Passing a comment that appears to put someone down in any way, could be taken offensively by the person in question and their group.
Causing someone to lose face is not only rude in Chinese business culture, but it often results in irreversible relationship breakdown.
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3) Undermining hierarchies
Be aware of the influence of hierarchy when you are interacting with Chinese people.
You should take the time to understand how the group you are working with is structured and the hierarchical makeup. Pay extra respect to the most senior members of the Chinese group. Acknowledging someone junior before someone more senior is not only rude but also be offensive.
The importance of hierarchy in Chinese business culture also extends to more formal behaviours, such as how a Chinese delegation enters a meeting room. If you’re doing face-to-face business in China, then consider your group makeup and ensure the most senior member of your group enters the room first and takes a priority role.
Presenting a transparent group and hierarchy will make the situation easier for Chinese peers to navigate.
4) Being too casual
Remember what we said about face in Chinese culture? Well, your own sense of face is important too!
For example, being self-deprecating will not be perceived well and your Chinese colleagues/clients and could lead to them questioning your personal standing.
Self-respect should be evidenced in the way you protect your reputation both verbally and physically. For example, wear nice clothes and dress well. Staying in a good hotel, as opposed to a cheap downtown hotel, also helps promote face.
If you turn up to a meeting wearing casual clothing or appearing to be poorly groomed, then your counterparts may well take this as a personal slight.
Such behaviours are not just perceived as rude, they also risk being perceived as uncouth and uncultured.
5) Getting emotional
With the sensitivities around face and the priority placed on not offending people, you may find that your Chinese colleagues/clients are fairly stoic.
Even if someone is angry, the Chinese might still smile and infer assent. Showing anger, frustration or other strong emotions is considered rude and may well jeopardise your goals.
As such, smile, even if you’re upset, and consider the best way to approach a challenge or conflict.
You may choose to use an intermediary to manage the challenge on your behalf, or you may choose to manage a sensitive one on one conversation with the person concerned.
However you manage it, ensure it’s considered and avoid the bad manners of doing so ‘in the moment’.
So, let’s summarize what behaviours are considered rude in Chinese business culture:
- Jumping straight into business and not paying attention to the relationship will definitely be perceived as rude.
- Failing to protect the face of your counterparts is the height of bad manners in Chinese business culture.
- Overlooking the importance of hierarchy and not giving the necessary respect to your most senior Chinese business peers is not only rude but also risks other important values, such as face.
- Failing to present yourself well through good grooming, dressing and the avoidance of self-deprecation is quite high on the bad manners scale.
- Showing anger is the height of rudeness and may well present you as someone untrustworthy and unstable.
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If you’re doing business with the Chinese, then get even more tips by taking our China Cultural Awareness eLearning Program.
It’s bursting with essential tips and insights into Chinese business culture and etiquette to help you make the best impression possible!
Main blog image by Richter Frank-Jurgen on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)