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Chinese Business Culture – do’s and don’ts in Chinese office

Chinese Business Culture – do’s and don’ts in Chinese office

A couple of valuable insights

Everyone gets nervous before starting a new job – it is always complicated to blend into a completely new business culture and learn to perform in terms of new responsibilities as fast as possible. Stress increases when you are faced with a foreign culture on top of that. 

Getting used to specific cultural aspects while you are trying to do business, can be hard and sometimes frustrating, especially in China, where business practices are really different from those in the West. But we all are masters of our own life and habits, so we can definitely relate to what Professor Xavier from “X-men” once said – every skill, habit or gift is just a muscle, and indeed it can be trained. 

To ease up the shock and help a newcomer become a superhero in the Chinese working environment, we have prepared for you some do’s and don’ts about working in China. 

Firstly, let’s start with Don’ts:

1. Don’t rush into getting straight to business

In China not all business people begin important discussions the moment they meet you – sometimes you will need to discuss a lot of other topics before you can actually get to it. Giant famous companies start the money talk right away, but with SMEs, this is not always the case.  And it is paramount to be culturally sensitive, especially in the business world. The very best you can do is to simply join the game and maintain the conversation whenever it leads, business or weather. 

Another important thing is to be prepared to answer some personal questions during any kind of business meeting – from job interviews to a contract signing. Don’t get offended by it; this is Asian culture and nothing more. 

For some companies making an important decision, like signing an agreement, for example, might also take several dinners as well as drinking and smoking sessions. A genuinely original thing about China is that the drinking and smoking part is imperative, and there are only a handful of reasons to justify your refusal to a Chinese business partner, such as allergies or a terrible health condition where you constantly take antibiotics.   

2. Don’t underestimate the power of personal relationships and connections

If you are seriously considering work experience in China, you must have heard the word “guanxi” at least once. Guanxi is a Chinese concept referring to useful connections that will help you get ahead in work and life. So to succeed in China never stop making new acquaintances as well as never underestimate how effective good personal relationships with colleagues or supervisors can be – the common saying: “It is not personal, it is business” is certainly not about China. 

3. Don’t always rely on team spirit 

Due to the way kids are educated in China nowadays as well as because of the hard times before that, the working environment of Chinese companies has a particular competitive edge. Sadly, there is not so much teamwork going on. Even if a company has a corporate culture and is in the process of implementing team spirit, your individual daily results on task completion always come first. So if you are a compassionate person who loves to help people, make sure you provide that help after you are already done with your own tasks. Otherwise, your position in a company will be questioned no matter how much you did for your teammates.

4. Don’t expect new ideas to be implemented right away 

Even if the company is open-minded enough for brainstorming sessions and everyone is allowed to propose an idea, don’t get your hopes up that your idea will be taken into account, and the business will immediately change. Usually adding something new to a business model takes 6 months at the very least, sometimes even years. So don’t be disappointed if your great idea will end up in a pile of other ideas waiting to be noticed – if it is excellent, it will come alive eventually. 

5. Don’t join open confrontations 

In every social circle, office life included, conflicts happen sometimes. And when they happen it is imperative how you handle these critical situations. 

An absolute don’t in the Chinese business environment is to get openly angry at anyone or make an example out of them. An open discussion will probably be sufficient that one time. However, a colleague you confronted will never forget that and start looking for a chance to repay you. And it is indeed not comfortable to work with people who are just waiting for you to fail and sometimes sabotaging your performance. 

To get a better understanding of a winning strategy, you can watch a native Chinese and a foreigner playing Mahjong. The Chinese style of playing is very tricky, with lots of surprises, and the non-Chinese person will base their strategy on the opponent’s moves, which is, according to the Chinese people “just watching other people’s mistakes”. Same can be easily applied to conflict resolution – instead of expressing your anger or dissatisfaction, in the Chinese business environment, it is always better to ask for “protection” or “advice” of a leader who can influence the colleague you had a problem with. 

6. Don’t forget "Face" concept 

This is one of the most authentic cultural things from China that really requires getting used to. “Face” is a sociological concept that unites person’s prestige, reputation, and dignity with the multiple aspects of a person’s life – work, family, friends and society in general.  And, of course, it is a very sensitive topic for any Chinese person - making someone lose “Face” is unforgivable and definitely an ultimate step towards making an enemy. 

7. Don’t forget taboo topics

Some topics should always be avoided in China, no matter who you are talking to – co-workers, new acquaintances or even some Chinese friends you do not see very often. The top two on that list are religious beliefs and politics. Among others, we wouldn’t recommend Second Sino-Japanese War and The Great Leap Forward – both are too painful to discuss. 

There are many rules, indeed, but once you get used to them, you will discover the tremendous benefits of working in China. So here are a couple of Do’s that will earn you points among your colleagues and help you have a meaningful and exciting work experience in China.

1. Do try to be flexible and open-minded at all times

If you are easily adaptable and can handle everything that is frustrating or hard to understand with a little humour and no anger, you will have a truly great experience in a Chinese company: you will learn from your colleagues, and they will learn from you.

2. Do help your colleagues if you can

Of course, helping others in a Chinese company should be done when your own tasks are already taken care of. However, if you take some extra time and help a colleague or two, you have all the chances to become everyone’s favourite person. If you find the right moment (when your colleague is truly in need), your help will be forever appreciated. And never forget to be modest at and nice about it - this is how you make your “Face.”  

3. Do focus on your learning every day – exploring new worlds is always fascinating

In addition to the language and traditions, there are certainly some things that a non-Chinese person can learn in order to be a real superhero. Strategic thinking, for example - if you learn to do business like the Chinese people play Mahjong, you will be truly unstoppable.  

And of course, do smile on a daily basis – being positive never hurt anyone.  

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