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13 Mistakes made when dealing with Chinese

Assuming all Chinese are alike

Singapore Chinese resemble mainland Chinese the way Americans resemble British. Shared language, some shared values, but otherwise different business techniques and norms

Moving too quickly; not having enough time

Chinese cultures are ancient. China is the last of the great civilizations, with a 4000+ year history. They are patient. And the one who is most impatient has the disadvantage

Americans in particular are notorious for planning trips that are too short

Thinking “Yes” means “Yes”

“Yes” may mean: “I’ve heard you” or “I understand.” There are no words for “yes” and “no” in the Chinese language. Finite concepts like that are foreign to them.

Thinking “A deal is a deal”

The Mainland Chinese philosophy is that one can always negotiate. Thus, signed contracts are easily and often re-negotiated.

Doing business with strangers

In other words, being task oriented in a relationship oriented environment

Business is done through introduction, and by relationship

Using the law as a shield

Relationships serve to protect the parties. An MOU is preferable to a contract in most cases. And if you choose to use the law to protect you, which laws will you use, and where will you enforce?

Refusing Chinese hospitality

When Chinese offer to host a banquet, buy you lunch or dinner, they mean it! Chinese hospitality is second to none, and outsiders are received as guests in their country.

Not understanding cultural norms: business cards, greeting, introductions

Naturally, training is available. “Business is Business” is a fallacy. And Westerners can be so successful in their home countries; they forget they are just beginners in China

Speaking of business too quickly

This speaks again of the relationship aspect to business negotiations. First the relationship, then the business discussions

Viewing Mainland China as one market

Besides various regional differences, China has political elite, an entrepreneurial powerhouse class, a growing middle class, and over a billion other people who want more to eat. 

Using the wrong Chinese in the wrong market

Looking Chinese and speaking Chinese are not enough. Political and business contacts are essential to get things done in China. Classic blunders have occurred when overseas Chinese were hired to establish businesses in Mainland China, but they didn’t have the clout to get to right people. Look for strong connections more than skin color

Asking a Chinese secretary in your office to act as a translator

Is your Chinese secretary a professional interpreter? Language skills alone do not make for an interpreter.

Using the wrong negotiators

How many times have I heard: We have someone in our office from China, he’ll negotiate with our Chinese counterparts? The head waiter of the Los Angeles Hyatt speaks Chinese too. Would you have him negotiate for you? It is essential to use professional negotiators who a) understand your business and b) understand China and Chinese business and c) are able to be positioned correctly in Chinese hierarchies.

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