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During the previous 25 years, China has developed from a closed, centrally-planned economy into one that is more market-oriented. Economic reforms that were carefully held into place resulted in increased economic efficiency for the entire nation, translating into a GDP that exceeds tenfold of that in the late 70’s and putting China on top in terms of global economy. In fact, 2006 saw to China being heralded as the second-largest economy worldwide, next to the United States of America, in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP); and ranking first in terms of current account surplus.
To date, the said developments have yielded large amounts of foreign investment and global trade expansion (Central Intelligence Agency).
Consequently, such developments persist to draw multinational firms towards the country. The relentlessly intensifying trade ties between China and the European Union also signal European firms to invest in China because it would surely yield future gains. However, multinational firms find it hard to keep retain their executives.
Hewitt Associates even provides evidence that 66% of executives who were foreign to the country or the firm seem to move out from their jobs in 18 months time due to language and culture disparities. Further, the lack of preliminary research about conducting business in China has often been identified to make both entrepreneurs and executives less capable of successfully doing business with the Chinese (Reich & Associates).
Herein arises the need for sound knowledge on the Chinese culture and communication practices in relation to the Chinese way of doing business. Thus, this paper will discuss on such topics, starting on the necessary preparations for business negotiations and the specific do’s and don’ts in conducting business with the Chinese; followed by the distinctive characteristics of communication in Chinese both in language and manner, and the verbal and non-verbal aspects, and last will be the distinctive values and perceptions of the Chinese that come into play during business engagements and that are bound to their history and culture as a people.
2. Preparations for and Conduct during Business Negotiations with the Chinese
Before the necessary preparations for and conduct during business negotiations with the Chinese could be discussed, it would be important to take note that everything must find basis on the Chinese culture. Usually, culture is defined as “a complex set of norms, values, assumptions, attitudes, and beliefs that are characteristics of a particular group” (Yang). Thus, everything that will be discussed hereon will be embedded on the Chinese culture.
2.1 Preparing for Business Negotiations
The negotiation procedures for business known to the Americans do not always apply to those conducted with Chinese businessmen. In fact, the practices and negotiations that are done for business purposes in China have been adequately designed to differ from those of foreign businessmen since, as have been priorly discussed in this paper, the country was originally a closed economy. Thus, necessary preparations should carefully be undertaken to be able to successfully negotiate with the Chinese (Reich & Associates). Such will be discussed in the paragraphs that follow:
Primary among the necessary preparations would be conducting background research on things such as specific business sectors, markets, and target organizations – their concerns, objectives, budget, activities, and the likes. Such information could be sourced from both external institutions, but could also be requested from the Chine counterpart. Similarly, the Chinese counterpart must be expected to ask the same questions and the foreign businessman must come with satisfactory answers at hand (Reich & Associates).
Those who shall be chosen to represent the company in the negotiations should also be well-oriented with the company objectives and with China, swift and accurate in answering queries, well-coordinated, and present themselves with much dignity. Choosing excellennt interpreters and translators for both the job proper and the socialization parts of the negotiation is also a must. Further, such interpreters should not be affiliated with the Chinese counterpart and must attune themselves with the objectives of the company that they represent (Reich & Associates).
Company representatives should come modest and traditional but professional clothes, because most Chinese perceive clothes as reflective of rank, personality, and competence, as well as a sign of respect. Long-haired men and short-skirted women usually strike a negative image for the Chinese. Representatives should also come with the right business gifts that shall serve as symbols of the intended relationship between business partners. Such gifts need not be extravagant, and would be pleasant enough if they embody one’s nation of origin. Lastly, bilingual business cards that are reflective of the value of the name written on it should be prepared. Chinese businesspeople desire to exactly identify the name, rank and title of those people whom they deal with and view businesscards as vital communication instruments and signal of formality. Information written on the cards should be properly translated and presented in Chinese in order to avoid misinterpretation, disorientation and affront (Reich & Associates).
2.2 Conduct during Business Negotiations
When one does business in a foreign land, it should be taken into account that the standards of behavior during the conduct of the negotiations may be different from his/her own. Americans usually negotiate in their own behavioral standards, which often cause misunderstandings. To avoid such mistakes, some do’s and dont’s have been listed hereunder:
First, one should show respect to business cards by giving and receiving cards with both hands, and holding it for some time to show recognition instead of putting them away at once. One should also acknowledge the other’s rank in the company since the Chinese are extremely conscious with status. The serious look should also be scrapped out and replaced with a smile – which is the equivalent of handshake among Americans, universal and signals friendliness (Reich & Associates).
In contrast to the American’s way of showing attention and respect by establishing eye contact, subordinates must look downward when talking in China, especially to superiors. Establishing eye contact is perceived to be unbecoming and signals defiance. The Americans’ straightforward approach to business is also very disparate to the Chinese way of making connections and friendships through small talks and meals prior to negotiating business matters. In the course of the conversations, it should be noted that the Chinese do not say “yes” to affirm at all times. It has become their habit to say “yes” as a sign of attentiveness, so one should listen for the Chinese to agree using a sentence or in writing to make the understanding sure (Reich & Associates).
One should also speak in English at a slow pace because the Chinese are not inherently English-speakers and therefore could find it difficult to absorb English speeches spoken at the normal American pace.The Chinese percieve it rude to ask people to go over things again so they usually let the ideas they didn’t understand pass by while managing to look as attentive as ever. This is true even for Chinese interpreters. More importantly, one should not insist the Chinese to disclose certain information which they seem reluctant to tell or could not answer directly. It is inherent in Chinese culture to limit what they expose about themselves because they are dissuaded to patronize individuality (Reich & Associates).
The best strategy to get intended critical information is to set one-on-one meetings and to stay around after gatherings, since it is only when the Chinese are away from the throng when they could freely speak their minds. However, it should always be observed that the Chinese are addressed formally, never by their first names, which makes them feel embarrassed and awkward. While Americans perceive being casual as pleasing, the Chinese would like to social status to always be recognized. One should also be careful not to use jargons or colloquialisms which may seem normal to naturally English speaking people, but incomprehensible to the Chinese who learned the English language only in the classroom. Thus, interpreters should have also experienced living in the US (Reich & Associates).
Those who are dealing with measurements should also familiarize themselves with metric measurements and should have all their presentations labeled with both metric and English units for the Chinese to understand more what is being presented to them. The sensitivity of the Chinese regarding numbers, which they relate to superstitions, should also be always considered. For instance, the numbers 4 and 14 are avoided beacsue they relate to death, while 3 and 8 relate to growth and prosperity. More on superstitions, the color white signals mourning for the Chinese and should therefore be avoided when doing business, while red signals power and prosperity and is thus preferred. A green colored hat is a big no no for Chinese men because it signals that one’s wife is unfaithful. Clocks should never be given as presents since in Chinese, “to give a clock” means “to attend someone’s funeral.”
Lastly, however one disdains smoking, one should let the Chinese counterpart smoke because they perceive smoking as appropriate for business dealings. One can decline an offer to smoke politely, but one should never tell someone off for smoking.
3. Distinctive Characteristics of Chinese Communication
It is indeed hard to understand, speak, and write in the Chinese language. Every Chinese character has its unique one syllable pronunciation and meaning. There are approximately 50 thousand known Chinese characters, though only around 10 thousand are still being used today. The mass media currently utilize only 4 thousand characters, but it still is overwhelming to think about compared to the mere 26 characters of the English language. The arrangements of the words lend grammatical relationships for the sake of sentence formations (Geert Hofstede International Information).
Meanwhile, “Putonghua” or Mandarin, which is the official national Chinese language, has approximately 1,600 tonal differences that express various connotations. It is used as a universal form of communication throughout China, and is used for business purposes. However, Chinese dialects reach about 206. The pronunciations of such dialects are too disparate that even Chinese themselves who belong to dissimilar dialects could not understand what the others are saying (Geert Hofstede International Information).
Due to the above-discussed complexities, foreigners are not expected to speak in Chinese when doing business trips to China. Yet it turns to their favor if the Chinese would see their effort to speak even meager Chinese because it will show their regard for the Chinese culture and their capability to learn easily (Geert Hofstede International Information).
Names of Chinese people differ from Western ones not only in sound but also in the arrangement. In Chinese, the family name comes first, followed by the first or generational name, and ended by a middle or given name. Sometimes, the second word is dropped so that some Chinese names consist only of two words. The third name is usually designed to match the second name either in meaning or in sound. Each name consists of only one to two syllables. The basic titles for name are “Mr.”, “Ms.”, or “Mrs.”, after which the family or complete name is placed. Chinese women do not take after the family name of their spouse, and takes such as an affront, unlike Western women. Chinese people who participate in international ventures invert their names to follow the Western format, and since such practice would be difficult to detect for a foreigner, it would be best to check with the person him/herself about the form and pronunciation of names (Geert Hofstede International Information).
4. Distinctive Chinese Perceptions, Values and Practices
As embedded through their distinct historical experiences and culture, there are certain Chinese perceptions, values and practices which are distinct from those of the West, and could be observed in the workplace.
Majority of the Chinese analyze things subjectively and in relation to their personal experiences, except for cases when they have undergone Western schooling. The Communist government required them to imbibe a universalistic behavior, while the favoritism with which they patronize the Communist party members is blatantly particularistic (Reich & Associates).
In every negotiation, truth comes form the belief in the Communist party line. However, most Chinese actually derive truth value from their subjectivities and feelings or intuitions. Only those facts that do not oppose the said sources of truth value are accepted (Reich & Associates).
Anxiety Reduction Sources
Meanwhile, Chinese people derive stability from the family, school, community and workplace. Duty to the extended family is given high value. Instead of religion, morality and the common good is imposed by the state, which also gives security. Harmony and compliance to the rule of parents and the Communist party are considered vital (Reich & Associates).
The widest disparity between Chinese and American business perspectives lie in making decisions. While Americans maintain aggressiveness and promptness as an indicator of competency, the Chinese deem quickness in decision as strange and foolish. They favor grueling deliberations over things that could be decided by Americans in a span of a few minutes. They would want to be involved even at the minutest level of decision making, the level at which American businesspeople deem beneath them, and take it as an honor to be asked about the simplest issues (Reich & Associates).
Style of Education
The American style of education, which promotes inquiry and critical thinking, is a stranger to the Chinese education system. Chinese instructors lecture while the pupils unquestioningly take notes. If a student’s voice would be heard inside the classroom, it would be upon the bidding of the teacher. Emphasize is placed much on theories, not applications.
Managing the Workplace
In China, it would be deplorable for a Western manager to rebuke an employee in public. Even the slightest rebuke would jeopardize harmony in the workplace and could oust the manager from position.
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