Western executives flying into China for a week of back-to-back meetings but getting nowhere with their Chinese business partners? They may be investing money in the trip, but not something just as vital: time. Rushed schedules leave no time for skillful negotiation and can offend Chinese, who want to build trust and develop relationships, or guanxi, often by socializing over dinners and drinks.
Another pitfall is when Westerners lay all the problems on the table, while Chinese will only address two at any given meeting because criticism or blame will make them look bad in front of their peers.
Western executives assuming their business practices are successful if their Chinese employees don’t object? Think again. Chinese are taught to obey authority and are often loath to disagree with their bosses.
The huge influx of foreign companies in China in recent years has spawned a burgeoning industry of cultural communication and innovation consultants paid to train Westerners and Chinese in each other’s languages, management styles and corporate cultures. Any cultural trainer worth his salt will start off by saying that the etiquette most novice professionals in China know about, like exchanging business cards with both hands and correct seating arrangements at banquets, may get you in the boardroom door, but to seal the deal — and see profits — requires a significantly more nuanced approach.