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5 Critical Communication Tips for China

If you’re working with Chinese, whether businessmen or factory workers, there may be times when you are unsure of the best way to manage a situation. Here are some general cross-cultural business tips for China that may help you through a situation or two.

  • If you need to teach or train, be sure to use written material. Go through the material step by step, but be sure to actually show the person or persons how to do it. Then, ask them to demonstrate back to you, rather than relying on a possibly dubious answer to, “Do you understand?” 

  • If you find yourself being hosted at a formal dinner, the host will probably offer a toast over the first course. You can reciprocate on the third course. Some suggested toasts would be, “To a long partnership.” or, “Thank you for your cooperation.”

  • In the beginning you should monitor, almost micromanage, every step of a process by being there in person as much as possible with weekly phone calls (or more) between visits. You should set up frequent milestones and checkpoints. After the first six month you can probably ease up on your vigil, but still, nothing takes the place of seeing things with your own eyes.

  • When it comes to quality, you should communicate your standards very clearly. Stress that it must be exact. Convey over and over that “close enough” is not ok. If you’re using contractors, you’re the customer, and you can be very firm in setting the requirements.

  • If you’re talking about technical issues through an interpreter, give the interpreter a glossary of words in advance. As always, it’s wise to have the interpreter translate nonverbal behaviors or subtle reactions for you during breaks and especially during the all-important debriefs. These may tell you more than the words.

And last but not least, remember that virtually everything in China is negotiable!

By Maya Hu-Chan and Diana K Rowland

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Rowland & Associates is a premier cross-cultural consulting firm, providing essential international business skills since 1985. Our passion is bringing intercultural business success through heightened insight and agility. We believe that bold steps with exceptional preparation can create dynamic solutions.


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