More than half a trillion worth of goods comes to America from China each year.

With such an incredible amount of business interaction between China and the West, it’s becoming increasingly important to prepare to deal with Chinese businesspeople.

Read on to learn these 10 ways you can use proper Chinese business etiquette and get a step ahead of the competition

1. Saving Face

The concept of saving face is one of the least clear Chinese business tips, but it’s absolutely essential to try and understand it.

In every culture, there’s a certain amount of sensitivity to looking good or bad. In modern Chinese culture, this value is given greater importance than it is in the West. In order to avoid offending Chinese business people, it’s essential to keep this difference in values in mind.

Saving face is all about letting people keep their dignity and helping them look their best. You want to help your associates gain face, but you especially want to avoid making them lose face.

In both cases, the thing to keep in mind is where you draw people’s attention. Are you drawing attention to the good things about people, or are you highlighting the negative? With your Chinese associates, don’t comment on any slipups they might make, and don’t say anything that might make them look bad.

In Western culture, we often play games with drawing negative attention to people. In a cooperative environment, this makes up a lot of friendly ribbing and joking. However, this is unacceptable in a professional Chinese context.

If anything embarrassing happens in your business dealing with Chinese people, politely draw people’s attention away from it. Change the subject, or pretend like nothing happened and move on.

2. Chinese Business Etiquette at the Dinner Table

At the dinner table, many actions you might take innocently will be understood by Chinese people as statements about respect. Follow these tips for doing business in China to avoid committing a faux pas.

The most respected people sit first and start eating first. If you take your chair before your associates, it will be seen as a claim to higher position.

Additionally, remember that in Chinese culture, older people are given a great deal of respect. In most cases, you’ll want to wait until older and more senior business people sit and eat before you do so.

Remember also that Chinese people expect whoever invites the other person to dinner to pay for it. Don’t attempt to pay if you’ve been invited, and make sure to pick up the check if you invited the other person.

3. Know Your Greetings

Knowing a few words of Mandarin is a great way to impress, and greetings are the easiest place to display your knowledge.

“Ni hao” means hello, and “xing hui” is a formal, professional way to say “nice to meet you.” “Ni hao” is pronounced like “nee how,” and “xing hui” is pronounced as “shing hway.”

4. Refer to People Correctly

In Mandarin, it is important to use people’s titles. Refer to your associates as manager, representative, or whatever their title may be. Follow the title with their last name, and avoid using first names.

5. Nail Your Small Talk

In Western culture, we often ask people “how are you?” as part of our greetings or small talk. We understand that it is not truly an invitation to go into detail about one’s well-being.

Similarly, Chinese people might ask “have you eaten?” or “where have you been today?” Just as with “how are you?”, these should not be taken as real inquiries, and a short, cursory answer is more appropriate than anything more detailed.

6. Avoid Sensitive Subjects

Politics in the West is a sensitive subject, but can be a great way to bond if two people happen to hold similar opinions. In China, however, it is less appropriate to discuss the politics of China.

You’ll especially want to avoid saying anything that could be construed as negative about China’s government. In particular, avoid mentioning Tibet, Hong Kong, or Tiananmen Square.

7. Know Your Details

Paying attention to detail is one of those tips for doing business with Chinese businesspeople that will take some serious work.

You should know in advance how to answer any questions which are likely to come up. You should know what decisions you are authorized to make, and exactly who will have the say-so on any other decisions. You should know what they need to know to make their decisions, and you should have precise estimates for any numbers that might be expected.

It’s also important to scope out your meeting venue and ensure that it provides everything you need and there are no distractions. Any hitches in the meeting will be seen as highly unprofessional, even if they are not your fault.

8. Navigate the Rules of Gifts

If you accept a gift, take it with both hands to show respect for it, and don’t open it right away unless asked to. If you give a gift, make sure it’s not too expensive, and avoid giving a timepiece, chrysanthemum, or green hat.

9. Be Prepared for Misunderstandings

When dealing with people who speak English as a second language. people often neglect to adjust correctly. You should stick to literal, simple English, avoiding sayings and slang.

While it can be appropriate in business to hint rather than say exactly what you want, make sure to pay careful attention to whether or not your associates understand what you’re trying to say, and clarify if necessary.

10. Take Appearances Seriously

The Chinese place great emphasis on appearances. If it’s possible, don’t think that people will just overlook little flaws in your appearance and move on. It’s not necessarily important to dress extremely well, but whatever you wear, make sure you wear it without flaws like wrinkles or crookedness.

Correctly spoken language is an essential part of professionalism and making good impressions on potential business peers. Finding a reliable way to translate Mandarin can be a tool you go back to again and again when you need to be as clear as possible with your clients or suppliers.

Learn What you Need to Know About Doing Business in China

We hope you learned something helpful about Chinese business etiquette in this brief piece. To stay up to date on the latest in news, business, law, and more, check out our other pages.

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