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From setting up a meeting to formal negotiations, knowing the right words to say is integral in conducting business. This is especially true if you are hosting or are guests of international business people. When planning or attending a Chinese business meeting, keep these tips on Chinese business etiquette in mind.
Setting Up a Meeting
When setting up a Chinese business meeting, it is important to send as much information as possible to your Chinese counterparts in advance. This includes details about the topics to be discussed and background information on your company. Sharing this information ensures that the people you want to meet will actually attend the meeting.
However, preparing in advance will not get you confirmation of the actual meeting's day and time. It is not uncommon to wait anxiously until the last minute for confirmation. Chinese businessmen often prefer waiting until a few days before or even the day of the meeting to confirm the time and place.
Be on time. Arriving late or early is considered rude. If you do arrive late, apologizing for your tardiness is a must. If you're early, delay entering the building until the appointed hour.
If you are hosting the meeting, it is proper etiquette to send a representative to greet the meeting's participants outside the building or in the lobby, and personally escort them to the meeting room. The host should be waiting in the meeting room to greet all meeting attendants.
The senior-most guest should enter the meeting room first. While entrance by rank is a must during high-level government meetings, it is becoming less formal for regular business meetings.
Seating Arrangements at a Chinese Business Meeting
After handshakes and exchanging business cards, guests will take their seats. The seating is typically arranged by rank. The host should escort the senior-most guest to his or her seat as well as any VIP guests.
If the meeting occurs in a room with chairs placed around the perimeter, the place of honor is to the host's right on a sofa or in chairs that are opposite the room's doors. If the meeting is held around a large conference table, then the guest of honor is seated directly opposite the host. Other high-ranking guests sit in the same general area while the remainder of the guests can choose their seats from among the remaining chairs.
In some instances, all of the Chinese delegation may opt to sit on one side of a large rectangular conference table and foreigners on the other. This is especially true for formal meetings and negotiations. At those meetings, principal delegates are seated at the table near the center, with lower ranking attendees placed at either end of the table.
Meetings usually begin with small talk to help both sides feel more comfortable. After a few moments of small talk, there is a short welcoming speech from the host followed by a discussion of the meeting's topic.
During any conversation, Chinese counterparts will often nod their heads or make affirmative utterances. These are signals that they are listening to what is being said and understand what is being said. These are not agreements to what is being said.
Do not interrupt during the meeting. Chinese meetings are highly structured and interjecting beyond a quick remark is considered rude. Also, don't put anyone on the spot by asking them to provide information they seem unwilling to give, or challenge a person directly. Doing so will lead them to become embarrassed and lose face. If you are using an interpreter, it is crucial to address your comments to the speaker, not the translator.
Sources and Further Reading
- Okoro, Ephraim. "Cross-Cultural Etiquette and Communication in Global Business: Toward a Strategic Framework for Managing Corporate Expansion." International Journal of Business and Management 7.16 (2012): 130-138.
- Seligmann, Scott D. "Chinese Business Etiquette: A Guide to Protocol, Manners, and Culture in the People's Republic of China." New York: Warner Business Books, 1999.