7 Steps for a Successful Meeting with Chinese Businesses

Racepoint Global

Written by Edwina Chung, Senior Client Manager, London

A growing number of Western companies are looking to China to do business and it’s no surprise. As the world’s second largest economy and most populous country, opportunities for growth are arguably greater than anywhere else. But while modern day China isn’t a world apart from what we already know, Chinese business culture and etiquette is still very different from Western business practices.

However, like anywhere else in the world, your first meeting with a Chinese business will set the tone for the rest of your relationship; brushing up on Chinese business etiquette will really help you get things off to the best possible start. As such, we’ve compiled seven common customs in conducting meetings that will help you relax, avoid embarrassment and most importantly achieve your business goals.

  1. Get to know the Chinese holidays

Every country observes its own festivals and national days and China is no exception. But while there are commonalities between the majorities of Western countries, the Chinese calendar is radically different. While Chinese New Year might immediately jump to mind, the Dragon Boat and Mid-Autumn Festivals are just a couple of others to be aware of. It is also very common for the Chinese to connect holidays for a longer period, by working over the weekend around the holiday instead. When scheduling a meeting, keep Chinese national holidays in mind. Not only will it save you the back and forth of setting something up, but also it will illustrate cultural sensitivity to your host.

  1. Arrange your own interpreter

Don’t be surprised when your host speaks little English, even though you were told that they speak English prior to the meeting. Just be sure to arrange your own interpreter or translator regardless the language capabilities of your host – this ensures there will be no crossed-wires and your messages are clearly delivered to them.

  1. Score points with Chinese language materials

Even if your host speaks good English, there is no harm to have your meeting and company materials translated into Chinese and ready to share with your host. This will help communicate with people in the room and help them share information with other decision makers in their organisation who might not speak English whatsoever.

  1. Know who the boss is!

Remember that hierarchies and seniority are valued highly in China. Addressing your hosts by their job titles, such as chairman, director, president, etc. will help establish positive impression. It’s always a good idea to try and establish who the most senior person in the room is and address them first. Similarly when you introduce yourself, remember to state not only your name but also both the company you work for and your job role. This will help establish you with the people you’re meeting.

  1. Wait to take the right seat

Each Chinese corporate has its own unwritten “seating plan” at meetings based on the seniority of attendees. When you are joining a meeting with a Chinese business, take your time and let your Chinese hosts pick their seats first – this avoids any unnecessary embarrassment. Most of the time you will likely have a name card or designated seat based on your role in the organisation.

  1. Cut the chit-chat

While chatting about the weather is a rather normal way to break the ice in the UK, you will find that most Chinese people prefer to get straight to business. You can still try to make small talk with them but keep a close eye on their reaction and know whether to cut your losses.

  1. Impress when exchanging business cards

Business cards are universal but the way they are exchanged can make a world of difference. A business card should always be handed out with two hands. Also, don’t just tuck it in your pocket and forget it; show respect by taking a moment to read it over. Once more, don’t forget those hierarchies: always give your card to the most senior person first. It might be worth having your cards translated into Chinese on one side which will help them to determine your role in meetings. If you really want to make a splash, include a QR code so that WeChat’s QR code scanner can be used to quickly obtain your contact details!

If you want to learn more about cracking the Chinese market, give our blog on marketing to China a read or drop us a line on echung@racepointglobal.com.