1. Understand that before you talk serious business, you must first introduce yourselves to each other. But I don't mean just a quick introduction. I'm talking about being invited or inviting them to lunch or dinner first. During the meal, casual conversation is the priority. Some minor business talk can be included, but keep it light and with no serious promises being made. Wait until the second meeting to talk serious business. I promise you, you will get a lot more accomplished that way.
2. They don't always give you time to prepare for a meeting. Trust me on this one. While you are visiting, you may be tempted to let it all hang out and blow off some steam thinking that you will be given plenty of notice before having to appear professional in front of potential business clients or partners. Don't bet on it! If you really need to take a break from it all, then the best thing you can do for yourself is to make sure to prepare for the unexpected meeting. Have everything you could possibly need in order to run out the door to an important meeting with only a ten minute warning. I'm really not kidding. You may think that you are on a set schedule, but just when you let your guard down, you will get a phone call from one of your Chinese clients stating that they have another partner who wants to talk to you, they are both currently standing in the lobby of your hotel, and that you are invited to eat with them right now. You had better not say no! It is a big insult to say no when you are invited to eat a meal from a Chinese citizen wanting to welcome you to talk business.
3. Plan to eat a lot of food. If they invite you to eat, it is customary to order a spread of food that is way too large for the group to finish eating. So if you are the one doing the inviting, you had better plan to order enough food to feed double the amount of people, and make sure it is a large and colorful variety of dishes! Keep in mind, it is always served family style! If you don't order much food, or you expect everyone to eat one individual meal for themselves, then you will insult them.
4. If you are invited to dinner or lunch, be prepared to drink clear hard liquor (at least one big shot), or beer (at least one bottle). If you are the one doing the inviting, then you had better be prepared to buy lots of liquor and beer, and at least ask what each person prefers! But either way, no matter what you are drinking, you will probably be drinking it out of a juice size glass. Oh, and one important thing to remember, when they say "Cheers", they don't want you to just take a sip. They expect you to down the whole glass! So make sure you fill your stomach with as much food as possible so you don't get drunk to early! Besides, if you eat more food, they will be happier with you, and I don't mean lots of food. I'm talking about tons of food. Eat until you are going to explode, if you know what I mean!
5. When it's time for handing out your business card, if you want to impress your Chinese business partners, then plan on using two hands. Place one hand on each side of the card. Make sure you very slightly bow your head, but not too much, just a hint of a bow.
6. Here's a really big one! If you're serious about impressing anyone in China, just learn to speak some Chinese. The more you can speak, the more impressed they will be. It is a serious compliment to take the time to learn their language. But if you are only going there for one business meeting, it would still make a big difference to just learn to say a few common sentences. If you learn to pronounce them well, you will be showered with compliments, and your first impression will go a long way towards softening up your conversations. You will also be viewed completely different from your colleagues who didn't bother to learn any Chinese at all!
7. Most people don't have their own vehicles in China. Even if they have a nice income, they probably rely on the amazing public transportation system. You can make a fantastic impression by arranging a car to pick up all of the prospective clients and drive them to the place of meeting, which will most likely be a restaurant.
8. Here's an interesting one. When you and your colleagues are getting ready to sit down at a table along with your Chinese business partners, you will notice a slight difference in the customary practices. It is not vitally important who sits down first, but you will notice a conflict of interest when a male Westerner is waiting for a Chinese woman to sit down before he does. The problem is that the woman will also be waiting for the man to sit down first! I have experienced this on many occasions and it still amuses me when neither one of us can decide when to sit down because we are both waiting on each other! Here's how it usually goes. The two Owners or Head Managers of both parties (male or female) sit down before everyone else, at the two most important positions, and at the same time. Then everyone else sits down in no particular order except with most of the women casually waiting for the men to sit down first.
9. Remember the the basic manners you were taught when you were growing up and you will make friends quickly. Saying "Please" and "Thank you" at the appropriate times is well respected within Chinese Culture. Genuine smiles are viewed as a sign of intelligence and a good honest heart. This is very important.
10. Now for one final, and extremely important concept to understand about making business contacts with Chinese citizens. In order to become good business partners, you must first become good friends. If you feel comfortable with your business partners, then make sure to call them your friend. Before anything else truly important can happen, the two parties must agree to be friends.
Of course all of these tips are not set in stone, but if you put them to use during your next trip to China, whether it be for business or for pleasure, you will make a great first impression.
Thomas Barto, CEO and Managing Member of GlobalQue LLC, an Import/Export, Global Sourcing Business that operates primarily offline, helping businesses find each other from across the world.
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