- Communication is the key
In any culture around the world, proper communication is the first step to building any kind of relationship. The same principle holds true for engaging with Chinese counterparts. Though globalization has influenced more locals to learn English, it would be extremely beneficial for foreigners to learn the local dialect. One this note, visitors should be aware that though Mandarin is spoken by the majority, there are around ten local dialects spoken in different regions of China. Even without learning the local language, research should be done to learn the locally accepted hand gestures (as Western gestures may be interpreted differently).
Beyond language, another key aspect of communication with Chinese counterparts is learning the idea of gaining and losing “face.” In Chinese culture, “Face” is not taken literally but rather as a figure of speech pertaining to one’s reputation. To “gain face” therefore, would mean to obtain respect or status – through praise, achievements, or symbolism (such as through networks or material wealth). In turn, to “lose face” entails the loss or absence of credibility, trust or respect. This occurs through failures (or not achievements) or through criticism (especially from supervisors or if given in public). One example of how this can reflect in the work environment is if asked for questions or clarifications, Chinese counterparts may not directly say “no,” especially in the presence of supervisors. They may opt for an indirect answer or simply reach out through email or on a separate occasion to save face. Westerners must, therefore, be aware of the value of gaining and losing face to ensure effective communication.
- Stay Aware of International Affairs
For those hoping to partner with Chinese businesses or establish a local branch, an awareness of international affairs could help build the bridge and avoid future conflict.
In China, history not only paves the way to understanding the past but also for planning for the future. For instance, in 1979, China and the U.S. re-established trade relations in 1979; in 2000, the U.S. granted China permanent trade relations. Today, the economies of both countries are intertwined with China serving as the main manufacturing hub for U.S. companies and the U.S. profiting from the purchase of low-cost products. In one sense, this entails that both countries will seek to maintain if not grow their relationship for mutual prosperity. On the other hand, as both countries face domestic pressure to prioritize the demands of local employment, Westerners should be wary of possible policy changes.
Though China has become more flexible in terms of trade and cooperation with other countries, it should be noted that the mention of certain topics such as, Taiwan, given China’s strict enactment of the “One China” principle, may trigger hostility from Chinese counterparts. Just recently, Japan is also being condemned by Chinese counterparts for the continuous denial of the events that occurred during the Rape of Nanking (1937).
- Learn their culture and history
Much of the way of life for people in China is defined by their culture and history. In line with the earlier segment on communication, the Chinese are a very hierarchical society. This is evident not only in decision-making and but also in protocol and meeting etiquette. As such, Westerners should inquire with their Chinese counterparts as to the proper way to address, seat, and introduce top management.
Lastly and most often overlooked, the understanding of the value of family to the locals is imperative in ensuring the success of any business venture. Analysts have found a direct correlation of family pressure to staff turnover and motivation. For those that believe in Confucius principles, loyalty to family is imperative thus businesses that may threaten or compromise this are sure to encounter attrition problems.
With over 3,000 years of existence, Chinese culture and history are sure to play an important role in the business world today. However, with Globalization and the need for foreign investments, the way of life and economy has shown signs of adapting to today’s demands. The most important tip, thus, is to continue to research while also keeping an open mind for a continuously evolving economy.