The Glandore guide to Chinese business etiquette
Chinese foreign direct investment into Ireland increased by 218 percent to €87.2 million last year. As the world’s second-largest economy and with Irish exports to China having doubled in the last 10 years to reach almost nine billion, it is more important than ever for the Irish to foster better working relationships with China and Chinese business professionals.
At Glandore, we are home to many Chinese companies, who have set up their first EMEA headquarters with us in Ireland. As we ring in Chinese New Year 2019, the year of the pig, here is the Glandore guide to understanding traditional Chinese business etiquette and customs.
Meetings mean business
If you are setting up a meeting, it is best to send as much information about yourself and your business in advance. This is with the aim that you will get to meet the most relevant people within the Chinese business. In many cases, you won’t get confirmation of the meeting until the day of the meeting. Be prepared for this. Very often Chinese business people will want to meet multiple times before agreeing to a deal. Never, ever push a deal. If you are hosting the meeting, send a company representative to meet the delegation before they enter the building. The most senior staff enter the room first. This is a must for meeting members of the Chinese government but is becoming less common with general business meetings. At the table, the most senior representative of the Chinese firm should sit opposite the most senior representative of your company, while the less senior staff members will sit at the end of the table.
Exchanging business cards is very important in Chinese culture, so bring plenty. Receive the business cards with both hands extended and take a moment to read it. Chinese people consider their business card an extension of themselves. If in a meeting, place the business card on the table. When you are outside of the boardroom and you receive a business card, do not put it into your trousers pocket as this can be considered as being rude. If you must store the card somewhere, put it into your jacket pocket but again, they are best left on the table facing you during a meeting and make sure to avoid fidgeting with them or playing with them. Something to note, in Chinese cultures, gold symbolises prestige. An idea might be to consider printing a certain number of business cards with gold writing or gold design if you are dealing in Chinese business circles regularly.
Talking the talk
Much like the way one comments about the weather, Chinese people engage in small talk, but generally around food. You may be asked have you eaten, in which case you should treat this much like “How are you?” in Western conversations. Please note, there is no need to go into detail about what you ate! We would encourage engaging in small talk around weather, family, nature, and travel. Don’t discuss politics especially topics about Mao, Tibet or Taiwan and when meeting someone for the first time, the best practice is to use Mr or Mrs followed by the person’s surname. In conversation or throughout negotiations, it is considered impolite to give a direct “No”. Instead use “Possibly” or “Maybe”. A direct no will make your Chinese counterpart feel they are “losing face”. In order to “give face”, recognise people’s status within the company and acknowledge their rank.
What to do at dinner
A large part of Chinese business culture is hosting a dinner, however, generally, business is not discussed over dinner. The most senior member of the Chinese firm will sit first and you should wait to start eating until they start, and finish eating when they finish. If you are hosting the dinner, it is expected that you pay the bill. Don’t eat every last bite of the food on your plate as this means you are still hungry and that there wasn’t enough food provided. If using chopsticks, it is important not to place your chopstick upright in the bowl as in Chinese culture, this is a symbol of death.
If you are planning on showing clients appreciation by engaging in corporate gifting, it is important to know what the correct gift giving etiquette is in Chinese business culture. Any gift should be small and several items such as watches, clocks, green hats, black and white items, knives and candles should be avoided. Watches and clocks symbolise a curse, especially to elderly people. Green hats are believed to mean that a man’s wife has been unfaithful and candles symbolise funerals. Black and white are believed to bring bad luck and knives represent wanting to cut ties with a person. Good gifts to receive are said to be alcoholic spirits such as whiskey, as well as fruit hampers or food offerings. It is customary for the person to refuse the gift, sometimes up to three times. If this seems like a genuine refusal, accept the refusal. If you are given a gift, it shouldn’t be opened in front of the receiver unless they insist and always make sure to thank them immediately.