Chinese culture is one of the most historic and unique cultures in the World, so there’s no way some white guy in Canada is going to be able to even scratch the surface of Chinese culture. But overall, here are some key points.
It’s All About Relationships
Business relationships in China are very unique in that they are often a blend between personal and business relationships. A lot of books regarding doing business in China overhype the importance of relationships in China, but the importance of these relationships really does need to be emphasized.
The importance of these relationships is perhaps best explained by a personal comparison of experiences. I work with Western Suppliers in North America and, of course, Chinese Suppliers. When I need something from my Western Suppliers, I’ll call them up and do the obligatory “How are you?” and jump straight into business. Perhaps we’ll even go out for a business lunch, and discuss an upcoming order. And that’s it.
Contrast this to the Chinese Supplier experience. When I visit my Suppliers in China, they will pick me up from the airport/bus station. Before dropping me off at my hotel, we’ll of course stop for lunch, and we’ll small chat, discussing the city, current events in China, the Houston Rockets, and never once mention business. Later that night, they’ll pick me up, we’ll go for dinner and then spend the rest of the night, usually with friends, either at Karaoke or some other event. The next day we may even go on a full day tour of the city. Eventually, we might discuss an upcoming order. Might.
There’s no specific rules to play by, just be prepared that business should only be a small part of your relationship with your Suppliers. Expect to do a lot of extra-curricular activities with them. Expect to see their home. Expect to know everything about their family and for them to know everything about yours. It’s all the usual stuff we do in the West with our friends and acquaintances, except in China, you do it with your business associates as well.
“No” Is Never An Answer
This one is really frustrating if you’re not prepared for it. You’ll ask a question and your Supplier ignores it. You might even ask the question twice and be ignored twice.
In Chinese culture, when they are asked to do something they can’t do/don’t want to do, it is more acceptable to ignore the question than to say ‘no’. If you ask your Supplier something twice and they ignore you twice, assume the answer is no.
It Doesn’t Matter If You’re Not Hungry
In China, meals are central to life. You don’t go to Dinner or Lunch necessarily to eat, but as a way of connecting with your friends and colleagues. In the West, when we go to a restaurant, we’re normally in and out in a matter of 30 minutes or less. In China, two hours seems to be around average.
Be prepared to eat
If you’re Supplier invites you out for Dinner or Lunch you cannot refuse it. And when you go out to the restaurant, you are expected to continuously eat (even on the 11th dish). If you’re truly not hungry or you’re watching your weight, eat as slowly as you can!
Hopefully this gives you a sense of business culture in China. Enjoy the time you spend “not” doing business; it may just be the most important thing you do on your business trip!
Do you have any other questions about Chinese business culture? If so, please comment below.
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