Verbal and nonverbal communication in China business

(Guo Guoquan/China Foto Press)

Face, guanxi, and other cultural norms are changing in China, but acquiring a basic level of cultural competence is still important for doing business thereFor neophytes beginning to approach China, the long list of cultural dos and don’ts understandably brings some jitters. Those new to China are told that they must understand the complex web that makes up a guanxi network, appreciate the nuances in the Chinese concept of “face, ” and be briefed on the subtlety of Chinese communication styles. Even seasoned China hands, who likely understand the need to develop cross-cultural awareness and skills for doing business in China, find it difficult to determine how to develop those skills and which ones are the most essential.

Understanding several key cultural concepts is useful in personal and business dealings. First, having some basic knowledge of Chinese history and the political, economic, and social challenges that the country faces is helpful before entering China. Second, it is important to understand cultural differences—particularly verbal and nonverbal communication styles—because so much misunderstanding stems from misreading cues and gestures. Third, face and guanxi are still vital concepts, but their importance varies slightly across generations. Finally, knowing the ins and outs of Chinese etiquette, from proper banquet behavior to gift-giving and business card exchange, can only help to enhance business relations and avoid embarrassing faux pas.

Face

The Asian concept of face is similar to the Western concept of face, but it is far more important in most Asian countries. Face is associated with honor, dignity, and a deep sense of pride. Causing someone to lose face, even if the offense was unintentional, could cause serious damage to a relationship.


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