10 Subtle Cultural Mistakes You May Make Doing Business in China

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Any preconceived notion of China by Western businesspeople is a falsification, for China is infinitely more complex a place than can be imagined. Eden Collinsworth should know. She moved to Beijing in 2011, launched an intercultural communication consultancy, and wrote a best-selling Western etiquette guide for Chinese businesspeople -- learning a whole lot about her herself in the process. She compiles her experiences in a new book out today, “I Stand Corrected: How Teaching Western Manners in China Became Its Own Unforgettable Lesson.”

1. Expecting a standard concept of time

The definition of time in China does not necessarily designate when one hour gives way to the next. For example, noon -- to a Westerner, as definite a time as any other -- is employed by the Chinese as a two-hour period from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

2. Mistaking loud voices as a sign of hostility

It could be the sheer number of people in China trying to have their say, or a quirk of the language, but for whatever reason, the Chinese speak several decibels higher than is comfortable for Westerns.

3. Misconstruing Chinese displays of deference

Though shaking hands comes naturally to Westerners, it is not always a comfortable practice for the Chinese who consider bonhomie impolite and disrespectful. Most Chinese offer a weak handshake and little more than reserve during their greetings. Don’t take offense.

4. Underestimating the importance of exchanging business cards before meetings

A double-sided Western business card with simplified Chinese on one side is the first indication of respect toward your Chinese counterpart; its conspicuous absence is not unlike refusing to shake hands at the start of a Western business meeting. Even if you are familiar with the title and position of the person to whom you have been introduced, study his card, and then deliberately place it within clear sight if you are sitting at a table.


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