It is difficult to change the minds of the Chinese, but not impossible. In the U.S. we have a tendency to “wine and dine” clients, more or less buttering them up to proposals, creating a personal relationship, so that in essence they buy you as a person and your proposal as a favor. China is highly relationship based, so get ready to utilize your networking skills, cause you are going to need them.
China has never had a dependent legal system, a representative political system, and with a recent financial system, relationships are the only things, throughout history, that the Chinese can rely on. They depend on informal networks of relationships and obligations between people, guanxi (gwuan-she), and it is usually these relationships that determine future action. There is little separation between the professional and the personal, you will be seen as one whole person and your business practices reflect your personal values. Respect and trust must be earned in this formal culture before the Chinese conduct business. This is where your awesome networking skills come in handy. Many recommend making Chinese contacts with those you wish to do business with and start building up a personal relationship, so that when you do get to talkin’ about business you are already on your way to building guanxi.
Well now that you have started the conversation, let’s address communications styles. Though context plays a large part in communicating styles in China, its influence is not as great as in Japan. As the situations change, the Chinese expect flexibility. Are you surprised when you have entered a contract with your Chinese colleagues and they are asking to renegotiate? Well, the contract was ideal then, but things have changed, and adjustments have to be made…they require and expect flexibility. The Chinese, therefore, prefer short statements of intent that attempt to control how the business partners will work together in an unpredictable fluctuating world.
“A picture is worth a thousand words,” is a Chinese proverb meant to convey that symbols and graphic representations can sometimes communicate what cannot be said directly. The Chinese rely on these symbolic expressions for they may decrease the need to save face. The Chinese, like the Japanese, work to save face, and will avoid directly saying “no.” However, unlike the Japanese who try to avoid all conflict and debate, the Chinese thrive on negotiating, where various forms of “no” are implied. They will move quickly to seize opportunities, if they present themselves, but unless the terms are ideal, the Chinese will take their time. Like the Japanese, the Chinese believe that things will take the time they need, but that does not include your arrival time. Though the clock is not the boss here, you need to be on time to your meetings!