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Features - Editor, 23 December 2008

Business Meeting Etiquette



Editor
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With the world becoming more of a global village with each passing day, many business people from different parts of the world may have occasion to travel to China to conclude business deals. To ensure that a business proposal is taken seriously, it is wise to observe certain basic business customs that are expected from you by your hosts.

Always arrive on time for a business meeting as arriving late is considered to be an insult to those waiting for you. While a firm handshake is acceptable in the Western World, in China a business meeting is started with a short and light handshake and the exchanging of business cards. Make sure you have sufficient business cards to give one to each person you meet. Gold engraving on your business card is seen as a symbol of your status, and having your details printed in Chinese on the flip-side of the card is appreciated by the receiver. On accepting a business card offered to you take some time to note the details on the card before putting into your briefcase or wallet as this denotes interest. Putting the business card away without reading it is seen as a lack of respect.

Before focusing on business matters, all parties generally engage in some ‘small talk’. Your hosts are likely to appreciate it if you have some knowledge of aspects of Chinese culture, history, geography and landmarks, as well as if you can speak a few words in Chinese, such as customary greetings. Acceptable topics of conversation, either at the beginning of the meeting or in a social setting such as a dinner, may include positive experiences regarding your travels in China, travels in other countries, positive observations with regard to Chinese scenery, weather, culture, art etc.

The customary style of dress is conservative when attending a business meeting in China, and bright colored clothing is unacceptable. So for men, a dark colored suit and tie is a good choice, while women should take care that their skirts are not above the knees and jewelry should not be flashy. It is expected that all parties in a business setting address one another by title and surname, not by first name. During the meeting do not directly say “no” to a question or request, rather politely tell the person that you will look into the matter to see what can be done.

Mannerisms to avoid include talking with your hands; touching the person you are talking to, even with a pat on the shoulder; and direct eye contact. It is accepted custom for Chinese people to pause during speech and is a sign of giving due consideration to what is being said. Take your cue from this, and speak slowly and clearly with short pauses between your sentences. Do not set deadlines or expect an immediate answer, as Chinese business people will seldom make a snap decision and prefer to give a business proposal careful and measured consideration.

Whether you are doing business in Shanghai or Beijing or anywhere else in China, you will find these business etiquette tips most helpful.

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