- Social Structure – In China the social structure is formal and hierarchical. You know where you fit in the structure and you abide by the rules. In America, it is much more loose and informal. It’s not uncommon to see those of various social levels socializing with one another. This doesn’t occur in China.
- Confrontation/Conflict – When conducting business in China or expecting an extended stay, it might be useful to know that the direct way that most Americans approach issues is not done in China. Direct conflict or confrontation over issues is highly frowned upon. Doesn’t matter that “the truth” needs to be spoken, respect and honor to each person supersedes “the truth”.
- You Will Get to Know Your Business Partners – When doing business in China, be prepared for a lot of socializing. Business becomes secondary as the parties get to know one another better. If it delays a contract, that is perfectly acceptable as long as the correct social time is taken care of. In America, the business is more important than socializing, and socializing may be sacrificed to get the job done if necessary. Though, it appears that now recognition for networking is becoming more important in our country, too.
- Downplay the Bravado – Humility is a practiced virtue in Chinese culture. The success of one’s business or personal life is downplayed while in America successes are discussed with pleasure. Most Americans in our fast business world consider humility a sign of weakness. This can be an issue that hurts inter-cultural relations. It’s probably a good idea to err on the side of humility in the presence of business people in China.
- Be Sensitive to the Time Zone – Most Americans are very time sensitive when it comes to meetings and deadlines. Time means different things in Chinese business culture. The Chinese do not view time as an absolute but more as a suggestion. Concern is not expressed for a meeting starting late or ending at a different time. The same can be applied to deadlines. If a report is due on Friday, we would be waiting for that report in our hands before end of business day. The Chinese would not worry if it showed up several days later. (This may be a very hard lesson for Americans to learn since it’s so counterintuitive to our culture.)
There’s a different kind of competition in business than in the Olympics. In business we’re expected to make or earn money. We compete based on the best price for the best product. I believe the playing field is more level in sports. In sports, we compete for the joy of winning and the thrill of the game.
That said, in the past 30 years, since I started Shamrock, offshore business has grown considerably, and how we do business abroad has also changed. Now it’s not only important to start the deal, we also need to know how to seal the deal. That means taking a crash course in different work ethics, habits and family life of companies we wish to partner with before we even think about doing business with them. Sort of like the Olympics of business deals.
According to several blog posts shared with me by Shamrock employees, here are what I consider to be important Rules of Engagement with China:
5 BUSINESS DIFFERENCES BETWEEN CHINA AND U.S.
China, like many countries overseas, is much more formal in their business dealings than the U.S.
ONE LAST THING…
While many cultural and political differences remain between the U.S. and China, we can all learn something from the dedication to strong family-oriented values, hard work and persistence that China uses to create smart business people. I believe that the more we know about our global counterparts the stronger we all will be in the global race for success.