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China – Meeting Etiquette

No matter the country, meetings are an integral part of day-to-day activities within businesses. However, it is often easy to forget that there are different cultural norms and etiquette that need to be considered within the business context. Here are some of our tips for conducting meetings with Chinese businesses.

The meeting process is very formal – from setting a meeting up, the conduct of the meeting, to formal negotiations. Once a meeting time has been secured, it is important to be on time to demonstrate that the counterparts’ time is valued and respected.

Discussions occur between senior people – during discussions, the two most senior people from each organisation do the talking. The other people in the room may only speak if they have been asked prior to the meeting to contribute, or if they are addressed during the meeting.

Business Cards – business cards must be exchanged at the start of the meeting. It is important to present business cards with both hands. Ensure that business cards have details in English on one side, and in Mandarin on the other side. When receiving a business card, read the card carefully, and do not write on the card or put the card in a back pocket.

Seating Arrangements – typically, the Chinese team will sit on one side of the table the foreigners will sit on the other side of the table. Seating is also arranged by rank.

Greetings and Farewells – both of these things are done in order of seniority. When addressing people, it is good to address them with their title together and surname. Be careful not to become too casual and friendly too quickly. It is a sign of respect to say farewell to the senior visitor at the entrance of the building rather than at the door of the meeting room.

Humour is not understood – sarcasm and jokes do not always translate well and therefore are not well understood. It is best not to make jokes during meetings or discussions.

Formality – remember that there is an expectation for lengthy discussions and formality during these meetings. Many times, foreigners perceive these longer meetings as “fluff” and as a waste of time. However, in the same way, Chinese people may regard a foreigner’s approach as too direct. Patience is therefore the key to success.

Body Language (eye contact) – it is important to make occasional eye contact, however do not do this for too long as that is regarded as rude. To combat this, look to the side and move gazes around the room. If there is an interpreter in the room, ensure that eye contact is not maintained with the interpreter

Body language (hand gestures) – do not point or wag fingers as this is considered as inappropriate behaviour.

Silence – do not feel uncomfortable by silences or try to break silences. Chinese do not feel uncomfortable about silence, whereas foreigners feel that they need to fill the gap or make concessions to move the meeting along.

Last update: 26 February 2020