Understanding the Chinese State of Mind in 10 lessons (business culture)
Where can misunderstandings come from? What are, in broad strokes, the values of the Chinese, their relationship to time, to money? Viewpoints as China opens up again to foreign business travelers and has just entered the Year of the Water Rabbit… Here are 10 lessons for understanding the Chinese state of mind when you do a business with them.
1. The face
First thing you need to know is this very Asian concept that is the Face. Having face, and giving face to your interlocutor is very important.
Having face: it is the management of your image, of what you give off and how you are perceived. Face is Knowing how to be respected and giving the impression of success. There is a whole lot of code to respect to have a certain social status and give credibility to your company or your person. I had summarized this in a guide to having the Face.
Do not make your interlocutor lose face: it is a classic, we can never repeat it enough:
In China, YOU SHOULD NEVER MAKE YOUR INTERLOCUTOR LOSE FACE
Much easier said than done, I agree. It is however very difficult to explain it is a whole lot of gestures, expressions of politeness, respecting the country, the culture, honoring its partners, avoiding contradicting them in public…
Inviting your partners in a luxurious place is a mark of respect for a Chinese and therefore it is giving him face. Having face and giving face to partners is the first point!
The first contact
In China, distrust and suspicion can characterize interactions with foreigners. An effective way to grow your relationship is to include an intermediary in the process. Your associate should be a trusted associate of your potential partner. The intermediary will help you to be accepted faster (“Guanxi”), to obtain better information on your potential partners and to avoid errors on local customs.
2. Another relationship to time
Allowing yourself time for trial and error resonates with what the father of Taoism, Lao Tseu, provided twenty-five centuries ago: “Practice non-action, let it go, savor the insipid. “The Chinese are steeped in Taoism.
It’s a way of being in a harmonious relationship and in acceptance, with nature, beings and the cosmos”, continues Christine Cayol, author of the novel Love is a tea that infuses slowly (Editions Hervé Chopin), in which she recounts the taming between a Frenchwoman and a Chinese. “The Chinese have this ability to ‘accept’ what happens like the movement of a wave on the beach. We Westerners judge this ‘passive’ attitude as submission to any order whatsoever.
The Chinese are steeped in Taoism. It is a way of being in harmonious and accepting relationship with nature, beings and the cosmos.
Among Asians, there is an ability to wait and not be obsessed with short-term results, very different from the need to act, to foresee, to plan for Westerners. “I remember my impatience about a delivery in front of my Chinese collaborator. He answered me amused: ‘Christine, be patient, it will happen…’ Yes, but when? When ? I insisted. Time for a stick of incense, he told me. This is a very Taoist answer.
On the other hand, the Chinese are very reactive in exchanging information and freeing up time to schedule an interview quickly. “And they are envious of the French way of life where you take the time to enjoy a hot chocolate and a macaroon with friends, without being focused on projects to do or relationships to maintain, explains the Frenchwoman. . It’s ‘romantic’, làng màn, a term connoting a wave that spreads naturally, like a wave on the beach. And to conclude that “the Chinese go fast when the French go slow, and vice versa.
Shanghai vs. Beijing
Working with a resident of Beijing (the capital of 22.5 million inhabitants in northern China) or Shanghai (more than 26 million, the country’s largest city and international financial center) does not require the same approach. For example, some collaborators, wanting to indicate that an event was very snobbish and sophisticated, told them that ‘it was very Shanghainese. In Beijing, we are more in the approximation, the ‘chàbùduo’ (not too bad).
Like this time when people from Beijing contacted her to ask for her Western opinion on their company’s new logo: “For three weeks, all the employees had given their opinion, the managers asked for mine, which was that this logo did not might not work in Chinese culture. They replied that they were going to try it for a few months, and that if it didn’t work, they would change it. That’s Chinese agility, not being afraid to make mistakes, not hesitating to start over with the same enthusiasm! Why look for perfection right away?
A state of mind that a Shanghainese views with condescension while the Pekingese look at the Shanghainese with great amusement.
The fact of being literally infused with Taoism induces a great capacity for adaptation on the part of the Chinese. “In France, when the boss validates the project, we take action and we define a retroplanning. The Chinese, he is not in the planning but in the maturation / transformation of the project, resumes Christine Cayol. Opposite, the French may wonder what the Chinese, who do not say much, are cooking in their corner, and that’s it: the project is cooking, always ready to be transformed.
The Chinese are adjusting their path every day to achieve the goal they are aiming for.
The Chinese philosopher Confucius has him as a precept: “As water is formed in the container which contains it, a wise man adapts to circumstances.
The dress code
The dress code is generally formal and discreet (a suit). However, the dress code should reflect success without being ostentatious: you should wear clothes, watches, shoes, etc. of good quality.
Business cards are exchanged when meeting a new person and follow a strict protocol. It is recommended to print the map in Chinese and English. You should present your business card with both hands and make sure the side printed in Chinese is facing your contact. Receive your Chinese partner’s card with both hands (never with the left hand), read it carefully and put it away carefully. Do not write on the card in the presence of your business partner.
Some Chinese are refractory to the queue, and do not hesitate to overtake, even seniors. What about the respect due to the elderly?
Only, if they are part of their circle of close relations, points out Philippe. The first circle of the family is very respectful of the elders. The professional entourage is also important: we ‘give face’, a term used to say that we express our respect, in order to create support. Finally, there is the circle of friends. But the less we know them, the less we owe them respect.
Greetings and titles
When meeting someone for the first time, the use of certain Chinese words may impress. You should give a light and persistent handshake, initiated by your Chinese counterpart. It is customary to look down and physical proximity should be avoided. Nodding and smiling are also very common greetings.
It is advisable to address your business partners with a professional title and their name. If a person does not have a professional title, use “Sir”, “Madam”, “Mademoiselle” plus the name. Note that most Chinese names use the family name first (for example, Mr. Lee Hong would be called Mr. Lee).
The gift policy
Giving and receiving gifts usually symbolizes the beginning of a relationship. It is recommended that the gift should not be too expensive and should always be wrapped. Gifts are often refused two or three times before being accepted and are rarely opened in front of the giver. The gift must be given and/or received with two hands.
During a meal, the chopsticks should not be planted in the rice, nor should they be knocked together and the noises of chewing and swallowing should be avoided. Rules of feng shui oblige, for a harmonious arrangement of beings and things, the most respected host sits facing the door. He first toasts with the guests he is closest to, saying a few positive words. Whenever a gānbēi (a toast) is offered, you have to drink bottoms up. And no question of refusing to someone to whom we owe respect!
At a company dinner, we don’t talk about business, but about what makes us happy.
During a business meal, it is enough not to finish your glass to mean that you have had enough to drink. “When we dine together, time and spirits relax. We can then have access not to the leader but to the person, praises Christine Cayol. The people are very warm, we joke, like in a family reunion. We don’t talk about business, but about what makes you happy.
6. The angry words or bad remarks, forget it!
On the planispheres sold in China, the country is of the same color as Taiwan, which politically dissociated itself from it in 1949. It is better to say that Taiwan belongs to China.
The inhabitants avoid talking politics. If foreigners criticize Chinese policy, we will prefer to ignore them. Otherwise, the tone can rise very quickly between them.
Still, in the land of martial arts, lack of self-control is devalued. And bursting out laughing when you get reprimanded is a way to dodge the offense.
7. No taboo on money
The Chinese speak quite easily about their salary, and when they showed me around their houses, in small towns, they liked to show me their success through their new fridge, their television, the air conditioning.
The taxi driver often asks you how much you earn, and if you earn more than him, he will be happy to transport you, who explains it by the optimism of the Chinese.
For those who work, the future is better, they think. And since the leaders of the country do not want the citizen to be interested in politics, they have set up a command economy which allows people to improve their purchasing power.
Everybody is happy. But the competition is tough. “You have to work harder than the others to get a good job, and to finish your day before the others.
8. Neither yes nor no
When you started working with Chinese people, you need quickly became disillusioned. “At first, everyone says yes, you’re euphoric, but after a month you realize that nothing is progressing! It is indeed difficult to say no, so we say yes and we do the best we can! The best solution to obtain a frank response from a collaborator: speak one-on-one, without witnesses, so that he does not lose face.
“It is indeed difficult to say no, so we say yes and we do the best we can!”
Conversely, according to westerners would benefit from saying yes more: “They do not want to change the deal once concluded, even if they go straight to the wall”, she is surprised. But beware, “you should never accept a compromising favor that could force you into a gear that is not very honest”, warns Philippe, who has worked in the industry.
The business culture on yes means no, and no means yes, and neither yes nor no?
Because they don’t want to lose face, the Chinese are often risk averse. Strict procedures generally exist for decision-making. Decisions are made by all concerned after several meetings and subordinates are not expected to voice their opinion. Typically, decision-makers will look at problems, alternatives and solutions from a long-term social perspective, as a result of which the process may be perceived as slow. Deciding too quickly could be frowned upon by your Chinese partners. Hierarchical differences must be respected, and trying to work around them will almost always delay decision-making.
Long-term relationships will often be sought and the Chinese will generally prefer to build relationships rather than negotiate contracts. Neglecting to cultivate a personal base in a business relationship could cause failure in achieving one’s goals. The establishment of the relationship can last from a few days to several months. It includes formal meetings as well as house calls, invitations to sporting events, long dinners and drinks.
9. Speak the language
The certainty of scoring a good point with a Chinese: speaking his language. Even when this is the case (quite rare it must be said), the French have trouble perceiving the different tones and pitches of pronunciation of a syllable. According to the inflection given, “princess” indeed becomes “pig”, and “death” becomes “four”… Which also explains why four and fourteen are unlucky and why some Chinese are therefore waiting for the release of the iPhone 15 , 16, 17…
If we also don’t want to risk confusing four (sì) with ten (shí), we can refer to the language of the fingers of the hand… which is not the same as in France, as Antoine attests: “One day, I wanted to order two drinks at the bar, with my thumb and forefinger. But they served me eight! To have two, you had to raise your index and middle fingers.
10. The attraction for foreigners to do business with them
Doing business in China contrary to popular belief is not harder than in the West it is just different from what we know in our Western world.
As a “Seller” you have to adapt to the buyer and the country of the buyer. China has a different and very marked culture. It is essential, as in any country, to identify the codes of the business world, to understand them and to respect them. Buy or sell we are the host of the Chinese, they will treat us well if we respect their traditions.
The Asian world is different from the Western world, the importance of the relational remains of enormous importance in the business world.
Whether you speak Mandarin or not, the Chinese are in love with a certain France, says Christine Cayol. “It is a country much admired for cultural, political and historical reasons. France represents for the Chinese one of the cradles of socialism, a centralized country with social assistance. Most Chinese are familiar with the Paris Commune, Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Miserables’ and Delacroix’s ‘Liberty Leading the People’. They respect the unity and above all the long history of the French nation.
The fundamentals of business culture
Understanding the Chinese state of mind for their business culture is largely influenced by Confucianism. Thus, the Confucian concept of Guanxi means that a network of relationships is crucial and based on the values of solidarity, loyalty, modesty and courtesy. Secondly, the hierarchy in China, both in business and in private life, is generally purely vertical and highly respected. Third, the Chinese will surely be careful to save face in order to protect their reputation, influence and dignity. Some of these values have faded over the past decade and modern western business approaches are gaining ground.
Work meetings are often long and several meetings are necessary to establish a lasting relationship. It is advisable to use the services of interpreters to avoid the language barrier. During discussions, it is common to have small talk to break the ice.
Most of the time, the Chinese are indirect communicators
Disagreement will rarely be clearly expressed. Phrases such as “Yes but it might be difficult” and “Yes, probably” are preferred. To deliver bad news while preserving good relations, it is common to call on an intermediary capable of mitigating the culture shock. Periods of silence are an integral part of reflection and should not be interrupted. It is strongly recommended not to interrupt the speaker.
Body language is used very little as a rule
The first person on your team to enter the room must be the highest ranked and will take the place of honor directly in front of the host. He/she will usually handle negotiations with the Chinese team leader. The rest of the team is expected to support the leader if asked. Negotiation is an integral part of Chinese culture and one should avoid accepting a proposal without negotiating, as this can be perceived as a sign of weakness. During negotiations, do not use psychological pressure tactics, you may be perceived as a manipulator. Usually only someone of a higher rank will speak, so be sure to appoint a superior from your group. Keep in mind that the objective is to determine if it is possible to establish a harmonious relationship to conclude an agreement.
It is common for food and drink to be offered to you at a meeting
Business meals are an important part of business dealings and people should sit down and eat in order of importance. Don’t finish all your meals, because your Chinese partners may think you’re always hungry. If you invite someone to an activity or a meal, you are expected to pay for it. However, try not to show your money in front of your guests.
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Les jours fériés
|Chinese New Year
|Festival Qing Ming
|Dragon Boat Festival
Les périodes pendant lesquelles les entreprises sont généralement fermées
|Spring Festival (aka Chinese New Year)
|Closed for a week.
Some dates are changing all the time. Each year’s holidays are announced about three weeks before the start of the year by the General Office of the State Council.
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