As part of the 2014 Export Week, Commisceo trainer Joyce Jenkins was invited to speak at UK Trade and Investment’s (UKTI) Women in Export event.
UKTI offers its services to UK based companies seeking to expand their business overseas, providing expert advice and practical support for exporting into foreign markets and understanding overseas business practices.
Their Master Class, held at Gatwick on the 13th of November, dealt with the challenges faced by women when exporting, with a particular focus on doing business in the Far East.
In addition to gaining a better understanding of the role UKTI can play in assisting companies in exporting, attendees heard from representatives of women-led businesses who had overcome barriers to trade in this region. Victoria Christian, Global Brand Ambassador for luxury goods producer Clive Christian, along with Claire Selby, Managing Director of educational materials producer Yellow House English Ltd., spoke about their respective experiences entering markets in the Far East.
Cultural Aspects of Doing Business in the Far East
The session concluded with a cultural workshop entitled ‘Doing Business in China and Japan’, conducted by Joyce Jenkins. With over thirty years of professional experience interacting in the Far East, Joyce has extensive knowledge of the cultural differences which can affect working within these countries.
The aim of her session, therefore, was to educate attendees in the importance of acquiring an awareness of these differences and ultimately to adjust their behaviour appropriately to suit the new working environment. Focusing on key areas in which the East differs from the West with regards to attitudes and norms, Joyce offered advice for the purposes of improving working relations across these cultures.
Questions asked following her session confirmed the hesitation people often experience when adjusting behaviour to suit new cultural customs for business purposes. Joyce, however, was quick to reassure that while making an effort to adapt to new ways of working is much appreciated, a perfect comprehension of new norms is not expected. Explaining that even with her wealth of knowledge she still finds herself acquiring new knowledge from her cultural interactions, Joyce concluded by highlighting that the most important factor in conducting business in any environment is the display of respect.
Some tips for doing business in China and Japan taken from Joyce’s session
The importance of Confucianism
This set of shared values places an emphasis on harmonious relationships and consequently diminishes the role of the individual. Roles are defined clearly according to society’s national inequalities and social hierarchies are obeyed. Understanding where you fit within this hierarchy will be important to the person you are doing business with. In accordance with this teaching, the characteristics of modesty, humility and courtesy are highly regarded.
Establishing relationships prior to doing business is essential and trust is developed through actions. When you enter into a business relationship, be aware that the connection you make is considered to be long term and so it must be maintained. The concept of ‘guanxi’ refers to the system of networks in which contacts and connections are most important. This can make it difficult for foreigners looking to do new business in this region.
The status and dignity of others must be preserved, therefore avoid causing “loss of face” by giving personal criticism or putting people on the spot. Instead try to be discrete when giving feedback and using ‘we’ instead of ‘you’ to solve problems.
High and Low Context
While Britain is located more towards the explicit end of the scale, both Japan and China are implicit cultures who communicate in an indirect manner. Therefore, avoid asking ‘yes’ or no’ questions and instead probe using open-ended questions. Remain patient as business and conversations usually take longer in this cultural environment. In addition, listen out for messages which may appear in cues such as tone, body language, hesitance or silence.
Business cards must be exchanged using both hands and usually with a slight bow. Once received, the card should be carefully examined and treated with respect; place it in a case and do not write on it. Note too that cards should be printed in both languages.
A team manager is usually seen as a ‘benevolent authoritarian’ who holds the power to make final decisions. Managers should be clear when setting desired outcomes and time frames and ensure that progress points are factored into the process. Be aware that the purpose of company meetings is to announce decisions and look for consensus, rather than to conceive ideas. In addition, in China and Japan, contracts signal the start rather than the end of the negotiation process.
Accept invitations and be aware that business is not often discussed over dinner so do not bring it up yourself. Try to accept and eat any food offered to show respect. If you bring gifts, make sure they are nicely wrapped and do not expect them to be opened in front of you, or to receive a thank you. Finally, make sure you have a song ready for participating in Karaoke!
Thanks to the UKTI South East team for involving us in Export Week. We hope those who attended found Joyce’s workshop interesting and will be more prepared and confident in their future dealings with the Far East.
by Claire Booth for the Culture Vulture.