China Business Etiquette; a laowai’s perspective

Most individuals’ perception of Asian business culture as a whole has to do with navigating around taboo topics, combined with trying to figure out the proper ways to address certain individuals that are in different positions of authority. When it comes to the new Asian business frontier, all individuals that held that belief to be true are going to be in for a shock! While many of that nit picky, careful etiquette may still reign true for a country like Japan or South Korea; in China where a majority of business is now conducted in Asia is a whole other ball o wax.


One of the first things that many individuals notice upon their first visit to China is cell phone etiquette. In the middle of a meeting or seminar, individuals in China routinely answer their phone, get up and walk outside while talking on the phone, etc.. Mind you that this all happens without any warning, no “sorry I have to take this one”, you can be having a normal conversation and then the phone rings, “Ni hao” and now you’re on hold until they wrap up that important phone call. Now when it comes to certain businesses in China the reimbursement protocol for phone usage can be pretty strict, especially in any sales industry, you better pick up the phone all day long or else you’re not getting your phone bill covered. I’ve even heard that several companies routinely make spy phone calls just to make sure that the employees are picking up the phone round the clock. So if someone can put their phone on mute, they’re probably a boss!


Next is speaking volume, which is several decibels louder than what you’ll hear in Japan (maybe not South Korea though), and confrontational language used to challenge the numbers you present to a new partner or audience. It’s all fun and games, but the Chinese business person definitely likes to challenge you on numbers, if you don’t memorize your vital statistics, you’ll be in for a treat.


In all honesty, I enjoy the business atmosphere in China, its genuine and nothing gets held back (not in terms of secrets but at least in terms of expressing ones self) and while it can be difficult to get used to at first, its almost liberating afterwards and will prepare you to negotiate more effectively with any business person in the future, almost a negotiation boot camp so to speak!


Til the next time…

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