In today’s globally connected world, understanding how to do business with other cultures, is just as important as knowing how to speak the language.

Deals worth millions of Euros can be lost if you fail to consider potential cultural misunderstandings, [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][fusion_tooltip title=”French word used in English – means embarrassing mistake”]faux-pas[/fusion_tooltip], or not ‘know’ how business is carried out in your target country.  Common difficulties include:

How much small talk should you make? Should you give a present and if so, what?  Should you socialise?

Doing business in another country is [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][fusion_tooltip title=”a lot of dangers: German – Geschäftliche Aktivitäten im Ausland sind mit vielen möglichen Tücken verbunden.”]fraught with potential pitfalls[/fusion_tooltip] and in this short lesson, we are going to take a brief look at doing business in China.

A colleague, experienced in doing business in China, once told me that “You only have one chance when doing business in China. Get it wrong, and you won’t be going back to that company again”.

Below are some tips in getting it “right”:

 

Be respectful of customs that may be different to your own:

One businessman ran into difficulties when he took offence at a Chinese businessman constantly [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][fusion_tooltip title=”to spit: eject saliva forcibly from one’s mouth. German:  spucken”]spitting [/fusion_tooltip] into the bin during a business meeting. He told him that he found it rude (as indeed it would be in Germany or in the UK). Following on from this, he also took exception to his Chinese business partner sleeping at his desk – and told him so. In most parts of Europe (Spain obviously being a big exception), [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][fusion_tooltip title=”a nap is a small sleep – usually less than an hour. German: Nickerchen “]napping[/fusion_tooltip] is normally an activity reserved for those under six years old or over 65 – it would be very strange to see it in the office! Yet in China it is a common sight to see people catching forty winks on park benches, on trains and buses, in restaurants – in fact almost anywhere! During my time in Taiwan, I was constantly surprised to see that almost anything could be made into a bed! At the workplace it is no different – naps are not a sign of [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][fusion_tooltip title=”Not wanting to do anything especially work! German: Faulheit “]laziness[/fusion_tooltip] and are even actively encouraged by bosses.

 

 

Avoid certain topics in small talk:

Small talk is very important before meetings. In the words of one of my students “you mustn’t give the impression that you are there just to make money. You must show that you are interested in them as people, too”. And, unless your Chinese business partner brings up the subject of politics, it is advisable to steer clear of this topic as your opinions could lead to offence. Stick to safer topics such as the weather, food, and complimenting their city.

 

“If you are not a manager, throw away your business card.”

Something that many businesses fail to realise when dealing in China is the status of the people they send.  Businessmen in China only want to deal with “decision makers” – i.e those with the power to make decisions. However impressive it might sound to us to have “lead engineer” on your business card in Germany, unless the word ‘manager’ or a similar [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][fusion_tooltip title=”having a high reputation; honored; esteemed: a prestigious author. German: angesehen”]prestigious[/fusion_tooltip] role is on there, it is quite likely your card will be thrown away almost the second it is received. For this reason, many German companies have started creating  special business cards for their employees before sending them overseas to China. On the subject of business cards, a certain [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][fusion_tooltip title=”A way you are expected to behave in a certain situation: German: Etikette “]etiquette[/fusion_tooltip] is expected namely: when receiving a business card, hold it with two hands and inspect the card for a suitable time, at the same time as looking the person in the eyes.

 

Culture sensitivity München

Superstition:

Whilst perhaps not a deal breaker, it can help negotiations enormously if you know beforehand about some Chinese [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][fusion_tooltip title=”Superstition: something you believe in which will bring good luck or bad luck. German: Aberglaube “]superstitions[/fusion_tooltip]. A colleague of mine once told me a story about an order his company had placed with a Chinese company. The total of the order coincidentally came to 8,888 Euros. The word for “eight” (八 Pinyin: bā) sounds similar to the word which means “prosper” or “[/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][fusion_tooltip title=”If you are wealthy it means you have a lot of money: German: Vermögen “]wealth[/fusion_tooltip]”. So far, so good, as this is a lucky number. But the colleague then told the Chinese company that he would pay in two instalments of 4,4444. What he didn’t know was that 4 is an unlucky number in China. Tetraphobia (from Greek τετράς – tetras, “four”and φόβος – phobos, “fear”) is the practice of avoiding instances of the number 4. In Hong Kong some apartments skip all the floors from 40 to 49 leading many to believe the floors are missing. The contract needed to be re-written at once and paid in four instalments. This is not just common in China but across much of Asia in the business world. But they are not alone in this. Lufthansa, which is based in Germany, does not have a 17th row. “The reason is that in Italy and Brazil, 17 is regarded as unlucky,” said Lufthansa spokeswoman Jennifer Janzen.

 

 

Intercultural training München Socialising:

Socialising is quite often extremely important when doing business in China. Immediately after a meeting at around 5pm, you are expected to join your business partners for a drink and some food in a restaurant. [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][fusion_tooltip title=”to rely on that person, to believe them and have faith in them: German: Vertrauent”]Trust[/fusion_tooltip] is a very important factor when doing business in China and during these social trips, you are being observed and evaluated. A [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][fusion_tooltip title=”being funny, witty e.g he has a good sense of humour. Germany: Sinn für Humor”]sense of humour[/fusion_tooltip] helps a lot. If you can make your Chinese business partners laugh, it goes along way in helping you build trust and have a good business relationship.

 

Deutsch--britische FreundschaftPresents:

Presents are usually always appreciated when you are visiting a foreign country, but what should you bring? In my experience something special, with a strong connection to your own country is the best idea. German businessmen and businesswomen have told me that you cannot go wrong with chocolate as German chocolate is very popular with most Chinese people. Even if you see the same brand of chocolate in China when you are there, it may not have been made in Germany and [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][fusion_tooltip title=”hence is a synomyn for therefore. German: deswegen”]hence[/fusion_tooltip] it is still something  special when you bring it with you.

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This is just a brief introduction to doing business in China. London School of Business English, München offers a variety of courses in cultural awareness and sensitivity. For more information please send us an email.

My special thanks to Wolfgang Stich for sharing his extremely helpful and invaluable experience for this article.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

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