With more Australian companies doing business with Asian-based entities, it is important that people understand some of the niceties and expectations of Asian cultures.

Understanding cultural difference is critical to building trust. This is particularly true of China, which is an increasingly important market for Australia. Chinese-based business people have different culture and expectations to ours due to the differences in background, upbringing and way of life. It is therefore important to be tolerant and understanding of these differences.

Having recently undertaken a number of audit and related assignments of China-based clients in 2015, some of the key lessons I’ve learnt include:

  • Understand and actively practice social etiquette – these include simple gestures such as the manner in which business cards and other written correspondences are exchanged (i.e. holding the document with both hands, with the written word facing them and bowing your head).
  • Effective communication requires a degree of formality or politeness, which is somewhat different to the ‘Australian way’. Avoid direct questioning but remain respectful and firm. This will assist with managing ‘face’, which is a vitally important aspect of Chinese business culture. Put simply, ‘face’ defines a person’s place in his or her social network. Causing embarrassment or loss of face, even unintentionally, can be disastrous for business relationships.
  • The manner in which conversation is framed needs to be kept simple and concise to avoid the underlying meaning of the conversation being lost in translation. Failure to do so would result in the meetings being prolonged unnecessarily.
  • As a guide, a one hour meeting would generally require two hours due to the impact of translation.
  • Be sure to use a quality translator who is well versed in business dialogue and avoid jokes, subtle or eloquent speech, as well as emotional or dramatic presentations. They simply do not translate well.
  • Follow up all meetings with minutes to ensure that all parties have ‘meeting of the minds’ of the discussion had. The last thing needed is confusion as it would result in additional lost time or wasted effort.
  • Explain and further explain the differences in business and corporate governance standards – this needs to be done at the start of all relationships (in a polite and professional manner) so that the rules of engagement are set at the start and made clear to all concerned.
  • The decision-making process has some subtle differences to that used in Australia and needs to be understood and observed.
    Be mindful of the decision-making hierarchy and accept that until the trust and respect of the decision-maker has been gained, you will be continually challenged to prove your worth.
  • Be transparent and solution-focused throughout – irrespective of the cultural differences, all business owners demand and expect transparency and solution focused outcomes.
  • Endurance is expected (i.e. hard work and long bargaining process). Be sure to allow for this factor while working with China-based businesses.
  • Lastly, use your common sense!