Any small, medium or large business looking for an international supplier has probably considered Chinese companies as potential candidates. However, for many, cultural differences and language barriers prove to be overwhelming hurdles. Fortunately, with a little knowledge of how the Chinese conduct business, you’ll likely have an easy time closing important deals.
In Chinese business etiquette, there are very few things that are held in higher regard than Mianzi – literally translated to mean “face.” Chinese is a culture in which business etiquette is founded on bigger and deeper principles guided by distinct beliefs and attitudes. For instance, it is customary for the Chinese to present and receive valuable things with both hands. Anything short of this could be interpreted as being rude. If you are going to formally interact with Chinese nobility or do business with them, it’s best to first understand the principles rooted in Mianzi.
Mianzi Is All About Perception
Your perception of others, along with the respect you command, is the priceless currency in Chinese business etiquette. It is a concept that steers how business is conducted and how the partners or parties involved regarding each other. A negative perception will no doubt put you at a disadvantage, say, during negotiations. In some cases, you may not even be considered a worthy potential business partner.
One thing you must understand, however, is that you are not one hundred percent in control of your own Mianzi. It is also impacted by those around you and those connected to you. Their character could have a positive or negative impact on your Mianzi. The Chinese place importance on surrounding oneself with people of respectable character. You lose face when an associate, partner, or team member conducts themselves disrespectfully. Likewise, you gain credit when the associate, partner, or team member demonstrates good character and conducts themselves appropriately.
Hierarchical Aspect of Mianzi
Chinese culture in general – and more so in business – is deeply hierarchical. Spend some time in any Chinese organization, and you will immediately notice that there are noticeable differences between management or leaders and the lower-ranked employees. It is expected of staff of lower ranks to always demonstrate respect to their superiors in order to “give them face.” The same is extended by companies (or their agents) to potential clients. In essence, they are showing you that they are worthy of your business. They may do this by offering gifts and compliments.
If someone is helping give you good Mianzi, you are expected to return it. However, it is important not to get too caught up in compliments at the expense of showing respect. The nuances of Mianzi might seem too complex at first, but with a little training and practical awareness, you will breeze through any deals involving Chinese people.